Position/Role Battles


Position/Role Battles: The Rockies' Third Baseman

The Rockies signed Casey Blake as a veteran insurance plan at third base, but Blake's release earlier this week indicates that Colorado will go ahead with (at least) one of their young players at the hot corner.  It just won't be the young player that fans have their eye on, however; top prospect Nolan Arenado will begin the season in the minors. Arenado had a difficult Spring Training and doesn't turn 21 until mid-April, so the Rockies are content to give him more minor league seasoning while they make do at third until he's ready.  That time could be sooner rather than later if Colorado is in a pennant race and Arenado is hitting well at mid-season.

But, we're getting ahead of ourselves.  Arenado getting called up in August won't help your fantasy team right now, so let's explore the Rockies' options at third base.

The Favorites

* Chris Nelson.  Taken ninth overall in 2004, Nelson didn't reach the big leagues until his seventh pro season, and he has a mediocre .254/.284/.376 line in 216 career plate appearances. He was originally drafted as a shortstop but, since Troy Tulowitzki is blocking the way in the majors, Nelson has played second and third base over the last two seasons. 

Despite this underwhelming resume, Nelson could prove to be more than just a seat-warmer for Arenado.  Nelson is just 26 and, though it's easy for stats to be inflated in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, he has an .889 OPS over the last two seasons at Triple-A Colorado Springs. If Nelson can hit, however, the job should be his more or less for the rest of the season. 

* Jordan Pacheco. The 26-year-old began his minor league career playing all around the infield but has spent the last four years primarily as a catcher. Pacheco played five games at third base last year in Triple-A and has been further learning the position this spring. While his defense is still a work in progress, Pacheco's bat has been on fire this spring, posting a 1.060 OPS in (small sample size alert!) 50 plate appearances.

Pacheco's versatility will probably give him a roster spot but his only chance at consistent playing time is at third.  It's hard to see him getting that time, though, since Nelson is the better defender and has a better minor league track record at the plate. It seems like Pacheco will only get a crack at a starting gig if someone else falters, be it Nelson or...

* Brandon Wood.  It wasn't long ago that Wood was considered to be one of baseball's up-and-coming young stars.  Ranked as the third-best prospect in the game by Baseball America before the 2006 season (and ranked eighth and 16th, respectively, over the next two years, as well), Wood was supposed to be a fixture at third or short for the Angels by this time in his career, but he simply hasn't hit at the Major League level. In 751 plate appearances, Wood has the batting stats of a pitcher --- a .186/.225/.289 slash line and a strikeout-to-walk rate of nearly 7:1.  The Angels gave up on Wood last season, and after being claimed off waivers by the Pirates, they outrighted him off their 40-man roster in October.

Is it too late for Wood?  Colorado doesn't quite think so.  The team gave him a bit of extra attention than usual for a minor league signing, setting Wood up to work with hitting coach Carney Lansford and overhauling his swing.  The results haven't manifested themselves during Spring Training, but there is hope that Wood can still break out at age 27.  You can't blame the Rockies for taking a chance on a player with Wood's pedigree, just in case he's an Alex Gordon-type late bloomer.

The Fallbacks

* Jonathan Herrera: The Rockies have Herrera slated for a utility role this season after he was part of their revolving door at second base over the last couple of seasons.  Herrera showed a solid glove playing second and has 25 appearances at third over his short career, but "late-inning defensive replacement" may be his ceiling given his lack of a bat.

* Michael Cuddyer: This would obviously be the last-ditch plan should none of Colorado's other third base options pan out.  Cuddyer hasn't played third since 2010 and was a below-average fielder (a -9.0 career UZR/150 rating) when he did man the hot corner in Minnesota. If Cuddyer has to be moved to third, that would also create a hole in right field for the Rockies. It would take some seriously dire straits for Cuddyer to play third in 2012, and if faced with the situation, the Rockies would probably just call up Arenado rather than shift Cuddyer and potentially weaken themselves at two positions.  On the off-chance that Cuddyer does play a bit of third, then it bumps his fantasy value up a tick since he'd qualify at another position.

Fantasy Outlook: It's really anyone's guess as to how Colorado's third base situation will play out.  Nelson, Pacheco and Wood are all right-handed hitters so there's no obvious platoon to be found (Herrera is a switch-hitter but he hasn't hit well from either side). Manager Jim Tracy may have to go with his gut when filling out the eighth spot in his lineup every day; I guess the one bonus to drafting a Rockies third baseman is that they'll get a few extra walks batting in front of the pitcher.

Of these options, I'd say Nelson is the only one that could provide some fantasy value.  First of all, he's out of options, so he has a better chance of simply making the roster than Pacheco or Wood.  Secondly, Nelson is considered to be a solid defensive player, so even if he can't hit, his glove might keep him in the lineup since Colorado might well not have any other options with any more pop.  I certainly don't expect Nelson to match his Triple-A numbers but I think the Rockies would be satisfied with a solid glove and an OPS in the .730-740 range.

Nelson and Wood are somewhat in the same boat as ex-first rounders still looking to break out as they reach their primes.  While neither player has had an extended chance at the Major League level, Wood's futility in 751 PAs paints a more dire picture than Nelson's futility in 216 PAs.  With Nelson, I think there could still be room to grow --- for Wood, it's hard to escape that "Quadruple-A" label.

The fact that I've used the word "dire" twice in this post is a sign that you should probably avoid drafting a Rockie to fill your third base spot. If you're desperate, however, it's very likely that the winner of the job will be available on your waiver wire for a rock-bottom price. If Nelson is announced as the starter before Opening Day, there's some potential there for you to throw caution to the wind and pick him up for your bench.



Position/Role Battles: The Royals' Closer

Joakim Soria owners already suffered through a tough 2011 when the closer posted still-decent but disappointing numbers -- a 4.03 ERA, a 9.0 H/9 rate and a 1.27 WHIP, all career worsts.  Now, Soria owners have to go back to the drawing board for saves since Soria will undergo his second Tommy John surgery and miss the 2012 season.

If you're looking for a replacement for Soria or just want to find some cheap saves on the waiver wire, you may not need to look beyond the Royals' roster.  Here are the top candidates to take over as the stopper in Kansas City...

Jonathan Broxton: The former Dodgers closer was one of the game's top relievers from 2006 until July 2010, when his performance suddenly went off a cliff.  Broxton had a 2.11 ERA before the 2010 All-Star break and a 7.13 ERA after it, which cost him his closing job late in the season. Things didn't improve in 2011, as he only made 14 appearances before being shut down in May and undergoing arthroscopic elbow surgery in September. 

Broxton signed a one-year, $4MM contract with K.C. in November with the intention of proving that he was both healthy and once again effective, so as to earn a closer's job and a longer-term contract in the 2012-13 offseason. As it happens, Broxton could find his closing opportunity right now in the wake of Soria's injury. We sabermetric types may scoff at the idea of a "closer's mentality," but the fact that Broxton has experience finishing games (and excelled at the task as recently as two years ago) will surely factor into manager Ned Yost's decision. 

What could hurt Broxton's chances in the closing hunt, however, is that fact that the Royals were easing Broxton back into pitching, limiting his spring innings to make sure he was fully recovered from his elbow surgery.  The club might not want to risk taking Broxton from the kiddie pool right into the deep end of high-leverage closing situations until they're totally sure he's fit. 

Fantasy-wise, you should be thinking the same thing before picking Broxton for your roster.  He's worth a waiver pickup or a late draft pick now since the K.C. closer's job is still pending, but unless Yost comes out and declares Broxton is his man, you can safely leave him undrafted.  If he pitches well, however, pick him up in June or July; an in-form Broxton will draw heavy interest for closer-needy teams at the trade deadline, and you could be the early bird in getting an extra stopper for the second half of your season.

Greg Holland: The right-hander's first full Major League season saw him post a 1.80 ERA, a 44.9% ground ball rate, a 3.89 K/BB ratio and 74 strikeouts in 60 innings of work.  Holland may have flown under the radar of casual fans, but other teams certainly noticed, as the Blue Jays and other clubs showed trade interest in the 26-year-old.  It's safe to say that given Soria's injury situation, Holland isn't leaving Kansas City anytime soon. 

Holland was an unheralded draft pick (10th round selection in 2007) and while he's always racked up strikeouts in his pro career, 2011 was his only truly elite season at any level.  It may be too soon to anoint Holland as the next big thing amongst fantasy closers simply because we don't yet know if his 2011 self is his new norm, or if his true talent level is closer to his minor league career numbers --- a 3.48 ERA, a 2.35 K/BB, a 4.1 BB/9 and a 1.29 WHIP.  Holland certainly has a lot of upside and is worth a late draft pick regardless of Yost's decision, as if he replicates his 2011 numbers, he can help your staff ERA and strikeout totals even if he doesn't get saves. (And if your league tracks holds, he's a must-have.)

Aaron Crow: If Dan Quisenberry and Jeff Montgomery are the Washington and Lincoln of Kansas City bullpen lore, Crow is David Rice Atchison.  Technically, Crow is an ex-Royals closer.  He won the job last May after Soria was demoted, but Soria pitched well in his next couple of outings and regained the job before Crow had even gotten one save opportunity.

Taken ninth overall in the 2008 draft by the Nationals, Crow didn't sign and re-entered the draft pool the next year, this time going to the Royals with the 12th overall pick.  His first year in the Royals' system went poorly, as Crow posted a combined 5.73 ERA in 29 starts at high-A ball and Double-A.  The Royals' solution to the problem was to convert Crow to relief pitching and the results were impressive, as Crow posted a 2.76 ERA and a 2.10 K/BB rate and even made the AL All-Star team.

The Royals toyed with the idea of converting Crow back into a starter this winter, but it looks like he'll remain in the bullpen for the time being. Crow becoming the team's closer is, frankly, a long shot --- both Broxton and Holland would have to struggle badly, get injured or get traded for Crow to get a crack at the job, and even if he did actually get a save opportunity this time, there's no guaranteed as to whether he'd be effective. Crow has a good but not great 2011 season, and in fact faded badly down the stretch in August and September. Whereas with Broxton we'll see if he can regain greatness, or if Holland can sustain greatness, with Crow we're still wondering if he has greatness in him at all.

Fantasy outlook: If I had to guess what will happen in Kansas City, I would say that Holland will start the year as closer while the club makes sure Broxton is fully healthy.  If Holland is performing well in the role, then he'll keep the job, Broxton becomes the setup man and the Royals could be no worse for wear at the back of their bullpen in Soria's absence.  If Holland struggles, however, Broxton would get the nod to finish games. The Broxton trade scenario I mentioned earlier could become even likelier should Broxton already be earning saves by the trade deadline, which would then open the door for Holland or even Crow to get chance to close if Broxton is dealt.

What this means is, Holland is your best fantasy bet for the time being.  He has all the tools to be a closer or at least a closer-in-waiting.  Under almost any scenario, he will be in line for save opportunities at some point this season. 

Also, the Soria situation is another reminder that you should always try to schedule your draft as close as possible to Opening Day.  You never know what injuries may crop up during Spring Training.  If you held your draft in early March and felt pretty good about your closing corps of Soria and Reds stopper Ryan Madson, Chris Carpenter in your rotation, Salvador Perez as your catcher, Chase Utley as your second baseman and Carlos Quentin in your outfield, then you have my apologies.



Position/Role Battles: The Phillies' Left Fielder

Domonic Brown's time will come.  Phillies fans who are worried about why their consensus top prospect (and the fourth-best prospect in the sport, according to Baseball America's pre-2011 rankings) hasn't quite broken through to win a starting job with the club should remember that Brown is still just 24, and the Phillies are a team that is built to win now.  With so much uncertainty and health issues surrounding the Philadelphia lineup, the team can't just hand Brown the starting left-field job and hope that he grows into it while the Phillies are gunning for a World Series. 

This is the reason why the Phils have surrounded Brown with a number of veteran options, all of whom could end up seeing more playing time than Brown does in 2012.  The situation is very fluid, however, and Brown may well end up getting the lion's share of the starts in left as the season develops. Let's take a look at the Phillies' left-field candidates and weigh their respective fantasy values ...

Brown: Let's start at the top.  Brown has battled a thumb injury during Spring Training and has looked shaky at best defensively in shifting to left from right field. Combine this with Ruben Amaro's oft-stated preference that Brown get some more minor-league seasoning, and it seems unlikely that Brown's long-awaited impact will come this season. Brown has nothing left to prove hitting-wise in the minors, but his next term in Triple-A will be focused on shoring up his left field glove.  If everything works as the Phillies hope with their left-field platoon, they might not even need Brown until the rosters expand in September.

This said, there is no doubt Brown will get the most fantasy attention of all the Phillies' left fielders simply because it's a lot more exciting to draft a top prospect than it is to draft a journeyman. I'd let someone else bite on Brown in a mixed-league draft simply because there are more reliable outfield options out there than a player whose Major League status is such a queston mark. If Brown is still around by the last or second-to-last round, take him on a flier, but his high profile will probably mean he's gone by then, and he isn't worth a higher pick right now.

John Mayberry: I mentioned earlier about how some Phillies fans are worried about Brown because he hasn't been an All-Star from day one, and perhaps Mayberry is an example of how quickly fans can forget about a prospect.  Mayberry was taken 19th overall in the 2005 draft by Texas but never really broke through in the minor leagues and was dealt to the Phillies in 2008 in exchange for Greg Golson. Now, he's positioned to not only get the most playing time in left field but to also get time at first base while Ryan Howard recovers from injury.

Mayberry hit .273/.341/.513 in 296 plate appearances last season, boosted by a .299/.341/.604 slash line against left-handed pitching. At worst, it seems like Mayberry is a very solid platoon option and could well be able to handle an everyday job; at age 28, he's right in his prime as a hitter. He might end up more or less playing every day, anyway, due to the number of banged-up players (Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, Howard) in the Phillies' starting lineup.  Mayberry and Ty Wigginton will split time at first in Howard's absence, with Jim Thome also getting some field action against righty starters, but the versatile Wigginton could be called into action at second or third if one of the Phils' other infielders needs times off.

Add it all up, and I'm pretty bullish on Mayberry's fantasy potential.  I like him as a sleeper pick for your outfield, and, as I noted earlier, Brown's higher profile may allow Mayberry to slip into the very late rounds of your draft. I can't say he'll be a consistent everyday option for the entire season given how the Phillies juggle their lineup due to injuries, but at worst, Mayberry will be a platoon player who destroys left-handers. In the best-case scenario, Mayberry plays virtually everyday and you've found yourself a 30-homer player in the 19th or 20th round of your fantasy draft.

Laynce Nix: Your classic left-handed bench option, Nix has provided a solid bat against right-handed pitching over the last few seasons. Nix signed a two-year deal with the Phillies this offseason and can provide OK defense all over the outfield, so his job is secure on the roster. I'd say the only way Nix doesn't receive semi-regular playing time this season is if Mayberry hits like a boss and forces his way into an everyday job. With this in mind, Nix is worth a last-round draft pick as an outfielder you can throw into your lineup when the Phillies are facing a right-hander. If he isn't producing after, say, four weeks, then you can release him at no real cost. If Nix does produce, however, he is a cheap power source flying under everyone's fantasy radar.

Juan Pierre and Scott Podsednik: There is a tendency to group these two together simply because they're such similar players on paper. Both are left-handed singles hitters in their mid-30's (Podsednik is 35, older than Pierre by 17 months) whose games are built around their base-stealing ability, and they're both in the Phillies' camp on minor league contracts. 

I'd say the similarities end there, however, since I think Pierre is clearly the better player of the two. Pierre has been perceived as a bust simply because he didn't live up to the five-year, $44MM Dodgers contract and because Ozzie Guillen kept playing him every day in Chicago despite Pierre's declining skillset. In a limited platoon capacity, however, I think Pierre brings more to the table than Podsednik, who spent all of 2011 in the minors. Both men have roughly a 75% base-stealing percentage for their careers, but Pierre is the far more prolific base-stealer, just two years removed from a league-leading 68 steals. Pierre is also probably the better defensive option --- he has the better UZR/150 rating over the years (+4.3 to Podsednik's -1.8), though Pierre did post a -10.7 UZR/150 with the White Sox last year.

Pierre and Podsednik both have limited to no fantasy value outside of their stolen bases. One of them will be cut by the end of Spring Training, and the winner of their battle will, at best, be splitting time with Nix against right-handers.  Speed is a valuable commodity in fantasy, but it's not worth having a "quarter-platooner" on your roster.

Fantasy outlook: As I noted earlier, the Phillies' lineup is in a state of flux as the team isn't sure about the health of several key players. Utley hasn't seen any game action at all during Spring Training, as the Phils want to keep him fresh for Opening Day. Howard's potential return date of June 1 may be pushed back due to a setback with his injury rehab. Polanco had hernia surgery in the offseason and suffered a finger injury on Saturday.

If Utley and/or Polanco miss any significant time during the season, Freddy Galvis or a newly-acquired infielder would see playing time, but Wigginton is also a possibility. If Wigginton is moved off of first during the first few months of the season, Mayberry would become essentially the everyday first baseman (with Thome getting a few starts against righties), thus turning the left field platoon into Nix and Pierre/Podsednik.  All three are lefty bats, but Pierre and Podsednik are at least better against southpaws than Nix. Calling up Brown wouldn't necessarily solve this problem since he's also a left-handed hitter.

Needless to say, there's a lot more uncertainty than the Phillies would like given that their window for another World Series with this aging core group is closing. The only constant seems to be that Mayberry will be a regular part of the Philadelphia lineup, no matter if it's at first base or in left field.  That makes him the best fantasy option of the lot.



Position/Role Battles: The Dodgers' Closer

Poor Javy Guerra. On most other teams, Guerra's rise to prominence would be a Cinderella story; a fairly unheralded minor league starter who battled injuries and a switch to the bullpen, rising through the ranks to finally make his Major League debut in his eighth pro season. And Guerra didn't just debut, he bailed the Dodgers out by taking over from Jonathan Broxton as closer and posting a 2.31 ERA and a 2.11 K/BB over 46 2/3 innings, racking up 21 saves.

So why is it 'poor Javy' and not 'viva Javy'?  Because rather than regard Guerra as a closer on the rise, it seems that everyone has already looked past him to his understudy, who has an even more remarkable story and a ceiling as high as any young reliever in baseball.

Signed as a 17-year-old catching prospect out of Curacao in 2004, Kenley Jansen was converted to relief pitching in 2009 and has been blowing away hitters ever since. Jansen recorded a whopping 110 strikeouts in 64 2/3 minor league innings, earning himself a callup in 2010 and a full-time bullpen job in 2011. All Jansen did last season was post a Major League record 16.1 K/9 (96 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings), along with a 2.85 ERA.  Jansen even finished seventh in Rookie Of The Year voting last season, quite the sign of respect from voters given that relievers rarely get awards attention without saves.

Don Mattingly has said that the closer's job is Guerra's to lose, a fair decision by the manager given that Guerra didn't do anything to warrant a demotion.  With a weapon like Jansen in reserve, however, you wonder how much leeway Mattingly will give Guerra the first time he has back-to-back blown saves, or even a few shaky outings in a row.

Let's look at both pitchers' 2011 numbers...

Guerra: 46 2/3 IP, 2.31 ERA (3.30 FIP, 4.07 xFIP), 38 K, 7.3 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 7.1 H/9, 42.9% GBR

Jansen: 53 2/3 IP, 2.85 ERA (1.74 FIP, 2.09 xFIP), 96 K, 16.1 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 5.0 H/9, 26.9% GBR

While Guerra is better at keeping the ball on the ground, that massive gap in strikeouts is hard to overlook.  Equally as interesting are the wildly divergent FIP and xFIP numbers; judging by these advanced metrics, Jansen was unlucky to post his 2.85 ERA while Guerra may have been very fortunate to have such a low real-world ERA.

There are a few areas that will give Jansen owners pause, however.  He has just been pitching for less than four years, he has averaged 4.6 BB/9 over his two seasons (so there's at least a possibility of him transforming from 2010's Carlos Marmol to the 2011 Marmol) and, most disturbingly, Jansen recently visited a hospital with heart palpitations.  He received medical clearance to continue playing, but it's a warning sign given his stint on the DL last year due to cardiac arrythmia.  These are the type of health issues that go beyond the field and make you hope that Jansen will be able to live his life without any difficulties, let alone pitch effectively.

Fantasy outlook: Jansen's peripherals are so eye-popping that his fantasy value is comparable to Guerra's even if he doesn't win the closer's job.  In his recent fantasy rankings of relievers, Roto Authority's Mike Axisa focused on saves first and foremost given that they're the most important fantasy stat for relief pitchers.  Mike ranked Guerra 29th and Jansen 33rd --- or, Guerra near the bottom among closers and Jansen near the top of the non-closers (or, "holds guys"). It's a fair ranking since frankly, if Guerra didn't have the closer's job, he wouldn't be on the list at all.  He is a quality pitcher but, had the situation been reversed and Jansen gotten the first chance to close last year, we wouldn't be calling this a position/role battle.  The job would be Jansen's from start to finish this season, barring a major blowup or an injury.

Non-closers are somewhat of a roster luxury in a standard 5x5 league, but a reliever delivering nearly two strikeouts per inning and keeping a low ERA is hard to ignore. Try to find two full-time closers if you can for your two RP spots, but for an open P spot, picking up Jansen has more relative upside than filling it with a middling starter who will have higher counting stats but at the cost of a much higher ERA and WHIP.

For your fantasy draft, the best way to approach the Dodgers' closing situation is, of course, to draft both pitchers.  If you can't pull off the handcuff strategy, however, I'd take the risk and pick Jansen if both he and Guerra are still on the board.  Jansen has at least a 50% shot of becoming closer eventually and even if Guerra does keep the job all year, Jansen is still worth owning because of his strikeouts (and he will be a beast if your league tracks holds). If you draft Guerra first, you'll spend the entire season crossing your fingers that he can stay in front of the Jansen Express.



Position/Role Battles: The Twins' Second Baseman

Newly signed international players have a habit of being drafted at least a couple of rounds earlier than they should by fantasy owners eager to look smart by claiming the next Ichiro (keep this in mind if you want to draft Yoenis Cespedes this year).  Tsuyoshi Nishioka was an example of this phenomenon last spring, though admittedly, there are worse risks to take than drafting a then-26-year-old with 2B/SS eligibility coming off a .346/.423/.482 season for the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Nishioka signed a three-year, $9.25MM contract with the Twins in December 2010 and was Minnesota's Opening Day second baseman ... then it was all downhill from there.  Nishioka broke his leg in just his sixth Major League game, putting him out of action for over two months.  When he returned, Nishioka hit just .226/.278/.249 in 240 plate appearances, a performance so underwhelming it created rumors that the Twins could just release Nishioka and move on to other infield options.

Nishioka will still be a Twin in 2012, however, though now he's slated for a utility slot.  A shortstop by trade, Nishioka will backup newly acquired shortstop Jamey Carroll, second baseman Alexi Casilla and even third baseman Danny Valencia, as Nishioka will take a few reps at third during Spring Training.

So why am I writing about an unproven utility infielder in a fantasy column?  Because, as Nishioka may have been slightly overvalued last season, he could be an undervalued asset for this season.  Utility tag aside, there is definitely room for him to regain the starting second base job.

Casilla's fantasy value is largely tied to his basestealing prowess (50 steals in 58 attempts), as his inconsistency at the plate has led to frustration for both his fantasy owners and the Twins.  Ironically, Casilla has entered each of the last two seasons in Nishioka's current situation --- penciled in as a backup but with room to possibly win a starting role.  Casilla indeed won the shortstop job last spring and hit .260./322/.368 (plus 15 steals) in just 365 PAs, thanks to hamstring injuries.

As we saw last season when Casilla lost playing time to Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes, Ron Gardenhire is perfectly willing to sit Casilla should he struggle again.  The door is open for Nishioka to force a platoon or even win the job outright.  Nishioka and Casilla are both switch-hitters and it's unclear if a traditional platoon could work between the two --- Nishioka's 240 Major League PAs are too small a sample size to properly judge, and while Casilla hits better against right-handers, that still amounts to just a career .666 OPS against righties.

I'm not saying that Nishioka is going to hit .346 this season as he did in Japan, but he's now had a year to acclimate himself to Major League Baseball and presumably he won't suffer another hard-luck injury trying to complete a double play.  Nishioka could have plenty of upside and is worth a look as your traditional flier pick in the last round of your fantasy draft.  Carroll is an underrated on-base threat, and I see Valencia having a post-sophomore slump bounce-back year, so Casilla is the best bet in the Minnesota infield to lose his job.  Casilla's history of inconsistency will probably open the door for Nishioka at some point in 2012, so you could find yourself with a starting second baseman at a very cheap price.



Position/Role Battles: The Indians' C/1B/DH

There are a number of players swirling around the Indians' catching, first base and DH positions, but there is only one constant --- Carlos Santana.  The young slugger is coming off a 27-homer season and is the cornerstone of the Tribe's lineup, so the club's obvious priority is to keep him in the lineup every day.  While his bat plays best at catcher, Santana's defensive shortcomings and the Tribe's desire to keep him fresh and healthy will net Santana a lot of time at both first base and DH this season. 

It goes without saying that of the players listed in this post, Santana is clearly the best fantasy option.  You have the luxury of keeping him as your fantasy catcher all season along, but Santana's position in the real-life Cleveland lineup will have a domino effect on several other members of the Tribe.  I'll rank the rest in order of their fantasy value in 2012 ...

Lou Marson: If you're in a league with one starting catcher, it's very hard to find a backup.  If you're in a league with TWO starting catcher spots, then forget about backups; it's a stretch to find two productive starters at the shallowest position in baseball.  You've got to be on the lookout to fill that second starter or backup-catcher slot with part-time backstops who have good splits and are guaranteed to get regular playing time.

Marson fits this profile to a T.  He has a .285/.367/.395 line in 199 career plate appearances against southpaws; it's a relatively small sample size, but it aligns with the .750 OPS Marson posted in his seven minor league seasons. Marson is also just 25 years old, so his bat could even still improve.

As a right-handed hitter, Marson is a rare commodity on an Indians roster dominated by lefty bats.  His production against southpaws will net him most, if not all, of the starts when the Tribe faces a left-hander, while the switch-hitting Santana (who destroys lefty pitching) will move to DH or first.  Even if Marson just gets 260-270 plate appearances in 2012, a .750 OPS is pretty solid for a second catcher, or even for a backup that you can rotate into the lineup if your full-time starter has a splits problem of his own.

Travis Hafner: "Pronk" turns 35 in June, hasn't played in the field since 2007, and has battled injuries in each of the past three seasons. While the perception is that Hafner has fallen off the map since his huge years in 2004-06, he is still a dangerous (if limited) fantasy threat.  Hafner is strictly a platoon player now, only dangerous against right-handed pitching ... but boy, he's still very dangerous in that limited capacity, posting no worse than an .863 OPS against righties over the past three seasons.  

Personally speaking, I try to avoid DH-only players in fantasy baseball.  I enjoy being able use my utility spot on a bench player who's on a hot streak or having a breakout year, rather than locking it up with one DH for the entire season. If you have a DH-only player like David Ortiz that's worth playing every day, more power to you, but me, I prefer to have a bit of flexibility in my lineup.  That said, if you're going to draft a designated hitter, make it one with killer splits like Hafner so you can start him whenever the Tribe faces a right-hander. 

I'm placing Marson ahead of Hafner simply because Marson only has been ranked against other catchers, whereas Hafner has to compete against literally every other hitter in baseball as a utility player.  A .750 OPS in 270 plate appearances from Marson is more valuable than Hafner's .863 OPS in the same amount of playing time since that production from a catcher is harder to find than Hafner's production in the utility spot.  Marson is still a question mark early in his career, to be sure, but Hafner's injury question gives him a red flag of his own. When in doubt, always take the catcher with upside over the aging DH.

Casey Kotchman: After signing a minor league deal with the Rays last offseason, Kotchman ended up as one of 2011's biggest bargains, posting a .306/.378/.422 line as Tampa Bay's regular first baseman.  That performance may have saved his Major League career, and it resulted in Kotchman signing a one-year, $3MM deal with Cleveland in February. 

If you picked up Kotchman after his hot start last year, congratulations.  If you actually drafted Kotchman last year, then whoa, start playing the lottery. Big season aside, however, it would be almost as surprising if Kotchman were to repeat his 2011 performance in 2012.  Last season was Kotchman's first solid campaign since 2007, he has a wide gap in his splits (.838 OPS vs. RHP, .709 OPS vs. LHP in 2011) and the fact that his OPS dropped by almost 100 points in the second half indicate that he is probably best served as a platoon player.  A left-handed hitter, Kotchman will share time at first with ...

Matt LaPorta: The centerpiece of the package Cleveland received from Milwaukee in the C.C. Sabathia trade, LaPorta has thus far not delivered on the Major League level, hitting .238/.304/.397 in 1,007 plate appearances.  At age 27 and entering his prime years, this could well be a make-or-break season for LaPorta. Kotchman's presence means both that the team can ease LaPorta into a platoon and also give them a veteran fallback should LaPorta struggle again.

Fantasy owners have been picking LaPorta in the later rounds of the last few seasons' worth of drafts, hoping the vaunted prospect will finally break out.  With Kotchman on board this year taking at-bats, I'd guess LaPorta's draft stock could be reduced even further, though if there was ever a season for him to finally break out, on paper this should be the one.  He has demolished minor league pitching so he has nothing left to prove on that level --- either LaPorta produces in 2012 or else he gets tagged with the dreaded "Quadruple-A" label.

Shelley Duncan: The 32-year-old veteran will factor into the first base and DH mix, though his primary contribution to the Indians may come in left field.  Grady Sizemore's health is a question mark, and with the latest news that Sizemore will miss Opening Day due to a back strain, Michael Brantley will now probably start the year as Cleveland's center fielder, putting Duncan and several other outfielders in line for playing time in left. 

Duncan is out of options, but his right-handed bat is probably enough to keep him around anyway on the lefty-heavy Indians (though curiously, Duncan had a .918 OPS in 133 PAs against righties and a .679 OPS in 114 PAs against lefties, a large enough gap that it almost evened out his career splits). Duncan is not a viable fantasy option unless you're in a deep AL-only league or you're the same Nostradamus that saw Kotchman's 2011 season coming.

Fantasy Outlook: To recap, when the Indians face a right-handed starter, their lineup will likely feature Hafner at designated hitter, Santana catching and Kotchman at first.  When a southpaw is on the mound, Santana will DH, Marson will catch and either LaPorta or Duncan will play first.  (Or, one of those two is the DH and Santana plays first.)

While Santana will clearly be the first Indian taken and will be gone by the third round at the latest, Marson and Hafner should both still be around by the 19th or 20th rounds of most drafts.  Some fantasy owners could be swayed by Kotchman's 2011 numbers and select him around this time or even a couple of rounds earlier, but I wouldn't take him with anything but a last-round flier. The same goes for LaPorta, despite all of that potential. I wouldn't draft Duncan at all, but he could provide limited value off the waiver wire depending on how the Tribe's left field or first base situations develop throughout the season.



Position/Role Battles: The Angels' Designated Hitter

The Angels find themselves in a position common to fantasy owners --- too much talent stockpiled at one position. Were the Halos a fantasy team, no doubt they'd be pestering you to acquire one of Bobby Abreu, Mark Trumbo or Kendrys Morales for your utility or corner infield spot in exchange for an outfielder.  (In real life, of course, Vernon Wells can't be so easily or cheaply released.)

A positional logjam is a small price to pay when it is caused by the addition of a superstar like Albert Pujols. It's very possible the Angels could still swing a trade to move at least one of their DH candidates; just within the last week, an Abreu-for-A.J. Burnett deal was floated with the Yankees, though Burnett rejected the deal since the Angels and other West Coast teams are on his no-trade list. If a trade doesn't happen, however, let's see how Abreu, Trumbo and Morales might all fit into the Los Angeles lineup ...

Abreu: It may be tough for Abreu to reach Cooperstown, but he is a charter member of the Underrated Fantasy Player Hall Of Fame. Abreu has averaged 102 runs scored, 101 walks, 20 homers and 28 steals per season over the past 13 years, and yet always seems to be available about a round lower than you'd expect. After years of consistency, however, Abreu has finally started to slip, batting .255/.352/.435 in 2010 and dropping to a .253/.353/.365 line last season.  Abreu turns 38 in March and is simply no longer a viable everyday option, as his numbers against left-handed pitching have especially slipped in recent years.

This didn't stop LAA from playing Abreu enough for him to unlock a vesting option in his contract, extending his deal through 2012 and guaranteeing him a $9MM salary. At that price, it's going to be hard for the Halos to unload Abreu in a deal, especially with so many other DH types like Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui, etc. still on the free agent market and available at a much lower price.  Swapping Abreu for another bad contract (i.e. Burnett) might be the only way the Angels would make a trade work.

If Abreu does remain an Angel, however, his days of 600-plus plate appearances are over.  Expect him to be used much more sparingly, more or less exclusively against right-handed pitching. Fantasy-wise, I'm not sure Abreu holds much value, even as a part-timer.  His numbers even against righties have slipped in recent years, so there are better options out there if you're looking for players with pronounced splits as streaming options.

Trumbo: Despite 29 homers and a second-place finish in the AL Rookie Of The Year balloting, there isn't a great sense that Trumbo is a big part of the Angels' future. Trumbo's power was countered by his .254 average and a disturbingly low .291 OBP -- getting on base has been issue for Trumbo throughout his career, as he carries a career .330 OBP in the minor leagues.  This said, Trumbo is just 26 years old and is theoretically entering his prime, so the Angels are committed to seeing if his overall batting skills develop into something special. Even if he doesn't, there are worse fates for a player than following the Mark Reynolds career path.

Reynolds could become an even closer comparable to Trumbo since the Angels will be working Trumbo out at third base during Spring Training in an attempt to find him a regular spot in the lineup.  Trumbo would displace regular third baseman Alberto Callaspo, who should still find some playing time against left-handed pitching (Callaspo is a switch-hitter, Trumbo is right-handed) and spelling Trumbo as a defensive replacement. 

Third-base eligibility would give Trumbo a big fantasy boost, as third basemen with 29-homer potential are hard to come by.  If he proves he can handle the job during Spring Training, he is definitely worth a pick during the later rounds of your fantasy draft.  There is risk attached to a Trumbo pick, however, as he'll provide virtually no fantasy value if his power wanes. Also, if he can't handle third base, it leaves Trumbo as a part-time DH at best and greatly limit his value.

Morales: Here's the big x-factor. Morales suffered one of the most infamous injuries in recent baseball history on May 29, 2010, when he fractured his lower left leg leaping onto home plate after a walkoff grand slam.  Two surgeries later, Morales may finally be ready to return, but the Angels will treat him with kid gloves. In other words, don't dream that Morales will be healthy enough to take over from Wells in left field since it'd be a surprise if the Angels play him anywhere other than the DH spot this season.

Even if Morales is fit, you can't expect him to regain his 2009 form after missing essentially two years of action. Morales was hitting .290/.346/.487 before he went down in 2010, and optimistically, that's probably his ceiling if he can stay healthy in 2012. An .833 OPS is nothing to sneeze at, but again, that represents a best-case scenario for Morales, who might not be ready for Opening Day.  I'd expect Los Angeles to bring Morales along slowly, keeping him in a DH platoon until he proves he's healthy enough to handle more playing time. It all adds up to a classic "draft him in the last or second-last round" scenario, and in most leagues, I'd guess Morales to last that long given the sheer uncertainty about his injury situation.

Fantasy outlook: It's easy to foresee a scenario where Morales isn't healthy, Abreu continues his decline and Trumbo fails to develop, turning the Angels' "logjam" at DH into an even more pressing problem of having nobody to fill the spot. It's also worth citing the names of Wells, Torii Hunter and super-prospect Mike Trout in the conversation.  If none of Abreu/Trumbo/Morales working out, you could see Hunter or Wells added to the DH mix, creating an everyday job for Trout in the outfield. 

For now, however, we'll save Mike Scioscia some lineup juggling and presume that it will indeed be some combination of Abreu, Trumbo and/or Morales rotating as the designated hitter. Trumbo's possible third base eligibility gives him the most fantasy value of the three players, with Morales' potential making him the second-best choice and Abreu's decline putting him in back.  Given the number of question marks surrounding all three players, LAA general manager Jerry Dipoto may want to hold off on trades until he sees which (if any) of his DH candidates will perform in 2012. In fact, if it turns out Morales can't play, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Halos sign someone like a Damon or a Guerrero late in Spring Training to help fill the void.



Position/Role Battles: The White Sox Closer

With Sergio Santos now in Toronto, the White Sox find themselves looking for another regular closer.  Two veterans and one very promising young arm stand out as the top candidates to take over as Chicago's new ninth-inning man, so let's break down their cases and fantasy value...

Matt Thornton: After years of quality set-up work out of the White Sox bullpen, Thornton got his shot at the closer's job in the wake of Bobby Jenks' departure last winter.  Unfortunately for Thornton, his promotion was short-lived.  He suffered through a horrific April, posting an 8.36 ERA in the month and blowing his first four save opportunities, not actually racking up a save until May 11.  By that point, Santos had emerged and Thornton returned to his usual setup role.

The good news for Thornton is that for the last five months of the season, he was as dominant as ever --- a 2.45 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings from May 3 to Sept. 28, holding opposing hitters to just a .574 OPS.  It's very possible that April 2011 was just a poorly timed rough month for the southpaw, rather than a sign that he can't handle closing.  New Chicago manager Robin Ventura may share this opinion, recently noting that Thornton was "probably" the leading closer candidate going into Spring Training (though pitching coach Don Cooper was a bit surprised by Ventura's statement).

On paper, Thornton seems like the most capable ninth-inning option for the White Sox.  I would guess he'll at least start the season with the job and get every opportunity to prove that last April was just a fluke.  Though Thornton is 35 years old, he has been consistent enough in recent years that a sudden drop off the cliff performance-wise would be unlikely.  Thornton will probably get a second crack at closing, barring a huge Spring Training from...

Addison Reed: The 23-year-old Reed has been nothing short of dominant in his short pro career. A third-round pick in the 2010 draft, Reed has quickly shot through Chicago's system after posting a 1.41 ERA, an 0.74 WHIP, and 155 strikeouts (against just 20 walks) in 108 1/3 innings pitched over two minor league seasons.  Reed's dominance earned him a call to the Major Leagues last September, where he recorded a 3.38 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings of work.

It's easy for Sox fans to be tempted by the thought of a dominant rookie seizing the job and becoming the team's closer for the next decade-plus, but while Reed has looked great in his two years as a pro, it's still just two years of experience.  Chicago has no particular need to rush Reed into a major role right away and might even think Reed's development would be better served closing games in Triple-A rather than staring the season in the big leagues.

Keep an eye on Reed during Spring Training, since if he's blowing away the Cactus League as easily as he did the minors, he may force Chicago's hand.  And, needless to say, if you're in any kind of keeper league or futures league, Reed is a must-buy if he isn't locked up on someone else's roster already.

Jesse Crain: Last winter, Crain said that the chance to close games was one of the reasons he chose to leave Minnesota and sign with the White Sox. In Crain's limited opportunities to close in 2011, he struggled badly in the role, blowing six of seven possible saves.  This was the only statistical black mark on an otherwise very solid year for Crain (a 2.62 ERA and a career-best 9.6 K/9 rate in 67 games) but it continues a disturbing trend that stretches back to Crain's time with the Twins. In 23 career save opportunities, Crain has converted just four saves --- a ghastly 17% conversion rate.

In fairness to Crain, he has never been asked to close in his eight-year career. If you believe in "the closing mentality," Crain's change in mindset and preparation knowing that he would be the first choice with a ninth-inning lead could do wonders for him.  Still, Crain seems like an emergency option who would only find regular closing chances if Thornton and Reed both struggled.

Fantasy outlook: No matter who wins the job, the White Sox closer should clearly be the #2 saves option in your fantasy bullpen. Draft a more proven, stable closer as your top saves-getter to give you the breathing room to take a bit of a flyer on Chicago's closer.  Thornton is the favorite at this point but the situation is definitely fluid.

Unlike some of our other Position/Role Battle cases, the Chicago closing battle isn't a zero-sum game, especially if you're in a league that tracks holds. Your ideal "holds guy" is a pitcher who not only collects holds but also racks up strikeouts and has other strong peripherals.  Thornton has been one of baseball's best and most consistent setup men over the last six seasons, averaging 20 holds a year and a 3.29 K/BB ratio in that stretch. Crain's overall career numbers are a bit more hit-and-miss, but he's been stellar the last two years, and Reed's minor league potential speaks for itself.  If you draft Thornton or Crain and they don't end up as the closer, you'll have the nice consolation prize of owning a solid holds guy.  The same goes for Reed unless the White Sox send him back down to Triple-A.

The other x-factor is that we don't yet know how Ventura (a rookie to not just the Major League managing ranks but to any level of pro coaching) intends to deploy his bullpen.  Will Ventura use the standard practice of having one primary closer, or could he mix things up?  Between Thornton and Crain, the possibility exists for a lefty-righty closing platoon depending on matchups, so Ventura has some room to be creative with the closer's job. 

This, of course, might be great for Chicago's chances of winning games, but it's not what you want from the standpoint of fantasy stability.  If Thornton wins the closer's job and you draft him, don't hesitate to also pick up Crain or Reed as a handcuff.  Best-case scenario, you get both a top closer and a top holds guy, mirroring those shrewd fantasy owners who handcuffed Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters last year.



Position/Role Battles: The Reds' Left Fielder

Dusty Baker never met a veteran player he didn't want to entrust with a bit of extra playing time, but that doesn't mean Ryan Ludwick should automatically be on your fantasy short list this season. Ludwick agreed to sign with the Reds last month and is targeted to share time in left field alongside Chris Heisey and Todd Frazier. It was a logical depth signing given that the Reds' 40-man roster was short on outfielders, but it also creates a battle for playing time between some flawed players.

Ludwick hit .299/.375/.591 in a breakout 2008 campaign, smacking 37 homers and looking like a very nice complement to Albert Pujols in the Cardinals' lineup.  Since then, however, Ludwick has struggled.  His OPS has steadily declined in each of the past three seasons, with an overall battling line of .251/.321/.409 over that stretch.  You can attiribute part of that decline to 659 plate appearances at PETCO Park as a member of the Padres, but the fact is Ludwick turns 34 in July and simply looks like a player on the downhill slope of his career.

Could he rediscover his power at the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park?  It's possible, but what will really hurt Ludwick's fantasy value is the fact that the Reds have a younger, homegrown, right-handed-hitting outfield option in Heisey who also carries some serious power potential.

In 534 career plate appearances (essentially a full season), Heisey has hit 26 homers with a .465 slugging percentage. This pop has helped make up for a lack of overall hitting polish, as Heisey only has a .254 career batting average and a troubling .316 on-bae percentage.  Heisey's minor league OBP was .365, however, which gives hopes that his batting eye has simply yet to develop on the Major League level.  Heisey is theoretically entering his prime as he begins his age-27 season, but with the Reds going all-in on contending in 2012, the team doesn't have much margin for error in letting a young but flawed player find himself. If Heisey struggles, he'll lose playing time to Ludwick.

A straight platoon between Ludwick and Heisey isn't practical since both are right-handed hitters and (unusually) both are reverse-splits guys.  Ludwick has a .272/.339/.464 career line against righties and a .237/.316/.435 line against lefties, while Heisey has an .885 OPS against right-handers in his short career and only a .548 OPS against southpaws. You would think Heisey's splits would normalize with more at-bats, but for now he looks like the better option against righties, while using Ludwick exclusively against lefties doesn't make sense given his middling career numbers against southpaws.

The wild card in the mix is Frazier, who was rated as the 43rd-best prospect in the game by Baseball America heading into the 2010 season.  Frazier posted a .727 OPS in 121 PAs in his Major League debut last season, largely playing third base in place of the injured Scott Rolen. Frazier has played all over the infield and in left throughout his minor league career, so if he has a big Spring Training, the Reds could give him a crack at the left-field job, as well.  He's another right-handed hitter, but one with traditional splits, so Frazier could see time in left when a southpaw is on the mound.  This all being said, I'm not sure Frazier has any significant fantasy value unless Rolen is injured again, which would make Frazier a nice short-term pickup at the hot corner.  

Fantasy outlook: My inclination would be to draft Heisey since he possesses the most upside. He, Ludwick and even Frazier can all provide some solid power numbers in a standard 5x5 league, but you shouldn't expect much outside of the HRs and maybe the RBI category (though Frazier has shown decent base-stealing ability in the minors). I doubt Ludwick would exceed this modest projection and Frazier is unlikely to get enough playing time to be a factor. With Heisey, however, the potential is there for him to break out and become a legitimate, everyday Major Leaguer.  It may take a couple of months for Cincinnati's LF situation to become clear, so I'd draft Heisey with a late-round pick and then cross your fingers that he emerges by midseason as the de facto starter.



Position/Role Battles: The Cubs' First Baseman

Bryan LaHair took an unlikely path to a Major League first-base job.  An unheralded 39th-round draft pick of the Mariners in 2002, LaHair plugged away in the minors for years, putting up solid numbers at the lower levels but stubbing his toe (a .661 OPS in 150 plate appearances) when he got his chance with Seattle in 2008.   The M's let LaHair go, he signed with the Cubs, and proceeded to put up whopping numbers at Triple-A Iowa in both 2010 and 2011. He was called back up to the Majors last September and made the most of his second chance, hitting .288/.377/.508 in 69 plate appearances, a performance that made him Chicago's incumbent first baseman going into the 2012 season.

Great story notwithstanding, Cubs fans were no doubt hoping their new GM would bring Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder or another superstar first sacker to town this offseason.  The Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer management team, however, eschewed adding (another) big contract to the Cubs' payroll and instead made a long-term move by acquiring star prospect Anthony Rizzo from the Padres. 

Rizzo is clearly "their guy," as Epstein originally drafted Rizzo in Boston and Hoyer traded for him last year when he was San Diego's GM, but that doesn't mean the Cubs are in any rush to immediately put Rizzo in the everyday lineup.  Hoyer has already stated that Rizzo will begin this year in Triple-A for more seasoning in the wake of his disappointing .181/.281/.242 line in 153 PAs with the Padres last season.

For fantasy purposes, then, we have a clear handcuff situation.  If you're able to draft both LaHair and Rizzo, great.  If not, then the LaHair owner will be nervously checking the Triple-A boxscores to see if Rizzo is on the verge of a callup and the Rizzo owner will be hoping that he doesn't have to stash Rizzo on his bench for too long.  While the situation seems clear on paper, however, judging which player has the more fantasy value in 2012 itself is a bit harder to gauge.

LaHair, 29, is still very much a wild card heading into next year, as one doesn't want to make too much of a September cup of coffee.  Roto Authority's Mike Axisa didn't even give LaHair as much as an honorable mention in his recent first base position rankings.  This said, LaHair's recent minor league success can't be ignored, and Wrigley Field is a great place to play if you're a slugging first baseman.  I'd expect LaHair to at least be able to hit right-handed pitching, with right-handed utilityman Jeff Baker getting some starts against southpaws.

Rizzo is coming off his biggest minor league season yet (a 1.056 OPS 413 PAs for Triple-A Tucson) but those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.  In fact, Rizzo was in a way too successful, as his stint in the PCL gave him some bad swing habits.  Since Hoyer admitted that calling Rizzo up last year "was a mistake," he could take the opposite tack now and give Rizzo an entire season in Triple-A.  It's quite possible that Rizzo might not get the call up to Wrigley until the rosters expand in September, though Cubs fans and media will certainly pressure Hoyer to do if Rizzo is raking in Iowa and LaHair is struggling.

The good news for LaHair is that if he plays well, he won't entirely lose his job in the case of a Rizzo call-up.  LaHair can play both corner outfield spots --- he could split time in left with Alfonso Soriano if Soriano struggles or is injured again, and he could play right field against right-handers, with David DeJesus moving to center to spell Marlon Byrd against a tough righty.  Byrd and DeJesus could also both be midseason trade candidates, opening up a spot for LaHair or possibly prospect Brett Jackson

Fantasy outlook: I'd forecast LaHair for at least 350 plate appearances in 2012.  Given his minor league numbers and his positional versatility, LaHair is not just a placeholder; he carries some quality sleeper potential as a late- or final-round pick in your draft.  You can try to handcuff him with Rizzo if you have the bench space and are willing to wait a potentially long time for Rizzo to arrive in the Majors.  Otherwise, Rizzo could go undrafted and you'll have to brave a waiver-wire frenzy later in the season if he's called up.

Keep an eye on Rizzo's spring numbers, however, since that could set you up for a nice little sell-high tactic.  If Rizzo has a big Spring Training but the Cubs are adamant that he'll start the season in the minors, draft him anyway in your fantasy league.  Then, use the hype and a "oh, the Cubs will call him up soon" line of reasoning to try and deal Rizzo to another fantasy owner for a player who will have a clearer Major League impact right away.  Best-case scenario is that you'll ride the hype to acquire a player who can contribute now, while your opponent wastes a roster spot on a player who's in the minors for months.  The worst-case scenario if, of course, that Rizzo is called up early and starts annihilating Major League pitching...but hey, when are the Cubs ever that lucky?




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