Is it really fantasy baseball season again?
I’m still exhausted from last year, when the struggles of Mark Teixeira had me acting like the over-stressed black police captain in every 1980s buddy cop movie you ever saw, popping Tums by the handful and saying things like, “I’m getting too ollllld for this crap.”
But who am I kidding? I love it. Baseball is the thinking man’s fantasy game. Football has long since lapped the national pastime in fantasy popularity, but any lunkhead can win it all in football so long as none of their top three picks blows an ACL or get concussed back to 1955.
Baseball requires knowledge of the game, patience, foresight, and actual managing skill. When video-game manufacturer 2K Sports hired Brian Cashman to consult on their 2009 game “MLB Front Office Manager,” it was an unconscionably awful idea, but I could kind of see why they thought it would work.
Being a general manager is the fan’s dream job, which makes fantasy baseball the closest 99.7 percent of us will ever get to it.
You likely have anywhere between one and 14 drafts coming up in the next three weeks, so River & Sunset is here to help you get a gauge on the fantasy value of your New York Yankees.
I won’t tell you who to pick, because, to quote famed Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman, nobody knows anything. But I will give you my opinion on the value of this year’s crop of Bombers.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
YOU CAN’T GO WRONG
Robinson Cano: Gone are the days when you wonder if Cano can be a consistent Major Leaguer. You don’t have to be concerned that a change in the batting order will send him into a funk. You don’t even have to worry about those Friday night glow stick benders with Melky anymore. Cano’s a certified stud, playing a position that doesn’t have many of them. He averaged .320/30/110/100 the past two years, and at age 28, he’s just now entering his prime. In a Yankee lineup loaded with aging stars, Cano stands out as a guy you can conceivably expect to get better.
CC Sabathia: Here’s the type of guy you love to have on your fantasy team. Draft him, stick him in the front of your rotation and let him do his thing. You’re going to get 33 starts, 220 innings, 20 wins, and close to 200 strikeouts. He’s coming off knee surgery, which is a minor red flag, but it’s nothing worth getting worked up over. Unless he drew his powers from salty tyrant of the breakfast table Capn’ Crunch, Carsten Charles will remain studly.
SOLID VALUE AT LOW COST
Nick Swisher: Sure, it’s likely that the .288 he hit last year was a bit of a fluke. He may drop down to the .255-.265 range in ’11, but as long as he stays healthy you know you’ll get 25-30 homers, 80-90 RBIs, and a OBP around .360. Even better, he’s the type of guy who always drops a little further than he should, a rarity when it comes to a Yankee.
Brett Gardner: There are rumors that Gardner will get the leadoff spot this season, which bumps up his value for sure. A move from No. 9 to No. 1 in the order could give the left fielder close to 100 extra plate appearances. If he stays healthy and hits enough, he’s a virtual lock for 115 runs and 50+ steals. Gardner won’t help you anywhere else, but like Swisher, he could be a great value pick in the late rounds.
ZZZZZZZ ZZZZZZ ZZZZZZZ (SLEEPERS)
Curtis Granderson: In retrospect, it was almost too obvious Granderson would struggle in his first year in New York. He got off to a brutal start, then blew up his groin, costing him a month. His second half numbers (18 homers after the break) make you think a 30/30-type season is well within reach.
Freddy Garcia: You may have to mark this down as the delusions of a Yankee fan still trying to figure out why Andy Pettitte chose Deer Park and a nagging wife over the Bronx and 50,000 adoring fans, but I have a good feeling about Garcia. Obviously, I’m not expecting 2001-Freddy, but if he can give the team 25-30 starts, I can see him getting 12-15 wins. Don’t expect much in the way of strikeouts and WHIP, but he could become a somewhat dependable commodity, especially in two-start weeks.
YOU FEELING LUCKY, PUNK?
A.J. Burnett: I refuse to recommend you draft Burnett on account of the whole single-most-maddening-Yankee-of-his-generation thing. I will say, that yes, the raw skills are still there, and yes, it’s probably more likely he has a season closer to 2009 (13-9, 4.04 ERA, 207 IP, 195 Ks) than the abortion of 2010 (10-15, 5.26 ERA, 186.2 IP, 145 Ks). Just don’t read too much into all the spring chatter about the Larry Rothschild-aided mechanical improvements. The changes Burnett has to make are all in the cranium.
Russell Martin: You can make the case that Martin is in line for a rejuvenation season similar to the one Nick Swisher enjoyed in his first season in pinstripes, but the 28-year-old is also a catcher who has dealt with some health problems in recent years. He also must contend with the consequences of Francisco Cervelli‘s broken foot and how that opened the door for the arrival of uber-prospect Jesus Montero. The Yankees gave Martin a healthy one-year, $4 million deal, which means he’ll get every opportunity to keep the starting gig. But just know there may be some Wally Pipp/Buster Posey machinations at play here.
Joba Chamberlain: Who knows what to make of Chamberlain at this point? He’s like the once-promising son who dropped out of school one credit shy of graduating and now spends all day on the couch playing XBox. He’s no longer the ace of the future, no longer the closer of the future, hell, he’s not even the setup man of the future anymore. The only good news is that the pressure is largely off his (um, broadening) shoulders at this point. If your league counts holds as a category, Chamberlain could have a sneaky productive fantasy season in him. Just don’t reach for him.
Alex Rodriguez: The biggest question that surrounds A-Rod as he enters his eighth (eighth!) season in pinstripes: Is he still a superduperstar? His 125 RBIs in 139 games last year prove he’s still a ferocious run-producer, but his durability has become a concern as he’s gotten deeper into his thirties. If he’s still sitting there early in the third round, he’s a good value. But don’t go drafting him in the first or early-second round expecting 2007 A-Rod. The days of 50 homers and 150 RBIs are likely done.
Jorge Posada: Is anybody else vaguely weirded-out by how Posada’s final season in pinstripes is unfolding? Obviously, we all know it was wise to bring an end to the catching-phase of his career, but it’s kind of uncomfortable watching the team move on without him even though he’s still here. Catcher or not, I find it hard to imagine Posada staying healthy for an entire season at this point. Expect around 400 at-bats, maybe 15 homers, possibly 60 RBIs … and that’s a best-case scenario. The only thing sexy about Georgie at this point is his wife.
Derek Jeter: I don’t put anything past Jeter, who just went through an entire offseason of people saying he wasn’t worth the paper his new contract was printed on (well that, and sex with Minka Kelly, but that’s beside the point). You know he’ll be more determined than ever, but at 36, we can’t expect anything close to 2009, right? Let’s split the difference between ’09 and ’10 and say .290/180 hits/105 runs/12 homers/65 RBIs. Knowing Jeter, he’d be disappointed. But could you really ask for much more at this point?
Mariano Rivera: The man defies categorical grouping since he may not be a man at all. The days of six-out saves are over, even more so with $35 million setup man in front of him. But who are we as mere mortals to say 35-40 more saves and a sub-2.00 ERA isn’t a realistic possibility, even at age 41?
Phil Hughes: His 18 victories hid the fact that Hughes still has a lot of room for improvement, and it’s definitely possible he takes the next step to ace-level figure in his age 25 season. You don’t have to worry about the Phil Rules anymore either, his 175 innings thrown last year sets him up nicely for the jump to 200+. Don’t expect to see that elusive changeup though.
Mark Teixeira: Injured or not, Teixeira got into some bad habits last season, and it led to the worst numbers of his career. You have to decide if he’s due for an MVP-bounce back season, or a slow-but-steady Giambino-like decline. Seeing that Teixeira is a robot made up almost entirely of metal and other composite parts, I’ll go with the former. He may even slip to the third round in many leagues, making him a huge bargain.
Rafael Soriano: Don’t take him too high, since there’s some dude wearing Jackie Robinson’s number ahead of him on the closer’s depth chart. But the incumbent is 41, meaning a promotion to closer could come at any time. And if your league counts holds, Soriano has way more value than a crappy closer that will probably be picked around the same time.
DON’T GET TOO CUTE, HOT SHOT
Jesus Montero: As I stated earlier, Francisco Cervelli‘s broken foot means that an April roster spot is now Montero’s to lose. But Brian Cashman gave Martin a multi-million dollar contract to be the starter this season, meaning it’s going to take a serious slump or injury for Montero to get the at-bats necessary to make him a worthy fantasy player. If your league has developmental players, jump all over young Jesus, otherwise steer clear.
Dellin Betances/Manny Banuelos: Yes, the youngsters have turned some heads in Tampa, with Russell Martin even saying Banuelos’ stuff reminds him of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Heady praise, but I’m going to have to hit ’em with a Deion Sanders-style H.O.P. (hold on player). The Yankees aren’t about to rush either pitcher to the show, even if their fifth-starter is currently a cardboard cutout of the New York Lotto guy.
Bartolo Colon: Fact: Colon has won 14 games since 2005. Fact: Colon was out of baseball last season. Fact: No pitcher who bears a striking resemblance to deceased WWF legend Andre the Giant has ever had success in the Major Leagues. Fiction: Colon will be a key cog in the Yankees’ 2011 starting rotation.
A DRAFT PICK IS A HORRIBLE THING TO WASTE
Mark Prior: Even his Steve Bartman voodoo doll has a sore shoulder at this point.
Eric Chavez: Sometimes I think the only reason Chavez is in camp is to fulfill Cashman’s bizarre need to have at least one player each year who may spontaneously combust at any time. Nick Johnson leaves behind some very big (orthopedic) shoes to fill.