"It's not a sprint, it's a marathon."
Who hasn't thought or read that yet with less than one full week of regular season action in the books? The stands at Miller Park were full of discontent during Monday's home opener after Martin Prado and Dan Uggla took Takashi Saito deep for a pair of solo homers in the eighth inning of a 2-1 loss. The Brewers fell to 0-4, remaining with the Red Sox, Rays and Astros as the only four teams still looking for the first victory of the season entering play Tuesday.
I like to believe that I'm not a completely irrational dope when it comes to reacting to small sample sizes. After all, the Brewers' starting pitching was the Achilles' heel last season, and it's been good enough to win two of the first four games this season. The team construction (depth) is the greatest area of concern, and even before Zack Greinke's rib injury, Corey Hart's oblique or Jonathan Lucroy's thumb, a thorough review of the Brewers roster and the upper levels of their minor league system would have revealed a team poised to struggle more than most in times of injury. Young talent has been pared from the roster, and there's no real relief on the horizon for Yuniesky Betancourt at short or Carlos Gomez in center. Fortunately in the case of the latter, the Brewers can insert Nyjer Morgan in center field once Hart is back in the mix to play right.
As far as pitching goes, they've got Mark Rogers at Triple-A as a major league ready callup, but that's about it. Offensively, there wasn't much to begin with, but flipping Brett Lawrie to the Jays in the Shaun Marcum deal removed the team's only remaining top-100 hitting prospect.
Need optimism? The Brewers are going to get all three of the aforementioned injured players back as early as the end of the month, and there are still 158 games remaining.
Are they trained to cross the finish line after 26.2 miles or doomed to fizzle out at the Mile 20 marker? If you liked the Brewers after they made the Greinke trade in December, you shouldn't like them any less now. Whether your fantasy team is in first, last or any place in between today, it really doesn't matter. I'd wager that if you could look at a Standings by Date for any five-day period of last season, every team in your league would have been at the top and at the bottom for at least one of those periods.
Think about your draft(s) already. What led you to draft Evan Longoria? Did he fall down through the first round to your spot where you “had to” grab him? How about owners who wanted to draft him but were foiled just a pick or two before the opportunity was there? That's pretty good fortune in the grand scheme of things, and that's actually what happened for Tim Schuler and I in WCOFB. We would have taken Longoria over Ryan Braun at No. 11 given the opportunity, but Eddie Gillis grabbed Longoria at 10 and essentially made the decision for us.
Injuries are going to happen throughout the season, but it's the timing that can be crucial if they all occur simultaneously or if they strike at a time when you lack the depth necessary to provide your lineup with an able replacement.
Think about the weaknesses on your roster, infallible as you may have been during the draft process. Do you have a clear plan on your bench to accommodate the worst-case scenarios you can imagine? If not, are you in a league that is shallow enough to make it possible for the waiver wire to offer up the appropriate relief?
Let's take a look at a number of players available in many leagues that could surprise as the season rolls along. If you're in a deeper league or a keeper format where these players are long gone, consider them as early-season trade targets before their price tag goes up.
Juan Rivera, OF, TOR - You might have missed the blog post where I mentioned Rivera as a good cheap source of power, even in more shallow mixed formats. If you read the post, move on. If not ... While most attention paid to the Vernon Wells deal was focused on Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos shedding one of the worst contracts in baseball, Rivera was quietly shipped to Toronto in the process. His defensive flaws in the outfield are less of a concern with the Jays' decision to make him the regular designated hitter as part of their adjusted defensive alignment. Further, his free-swinging approach fits well at Rogers Centre where right-handed power (116) is certainly more hitter friendly than Angel Stadium (102). Looking for a cheap source of .270/20/75? Rivera is certainly capable of delivering those numbers even if he's forced to yield the occasional start or two.
Tyler Colvin, OF, CHC - In addition to being the Cubs' fourth outfielder, Colvin is the backup to Carlos Pena at first base as well (he only qualifies as an outfielder). Kosuke Fukudome (34 in late April) is in the final year of his contract, and Colvin is an injury to Alfonso Soriano (35), Marlon Byrd (33) or Fukudome from becoming a regular in the lineup. There are some plate discipline concerns, but ultimately he's the high-upside type the Cubs need to develop to have a future, and he only needs an aging outfielder to get hurt to get everyday playing time.
Nyjer Morgan, OF, MIL - As mentioned, Corey Hart is eventually going to return and take over in right field again. That would push Morgan to the bench if this were Opening Day, but by the time Hart is back, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke will have more than enough reasons to move on from Carlos Gomez in center field. For any number of reasons, Gomez still looks lost at the plate, and his approach – swing at the first pitch, swing at everything really – will drop him in the order and eventually earn him time on the pine. Meanwhile, Morgan could be in a position to move to the leadoff or No. 2 role, with the latter being more likely because the Brewers seem to be very comfortable with Rickie Weeks atop the lineup.
Chris Davis, 1B, TEX - The 25-year-old Davis raked this spring, plays much better defense at first base than anyone gives him credit for and is one of many appealing trade chips on a club looking to contend for the World Series again this season. He would serve as an upgrade for enough teams to make stashing him away now in deeper leagues a very good idea.
Juan Francisco, 3B, CIN - You're not going to get much out of Francisco in the short term, but for now he's on the Reds bench instead of working on his plate discipline at Triple-A. He'd be atop the list of players who would benefit in the event of a Scott Rolen injury, and Francisco's raw power (18 homers in 308 at-bats at Triple-A last season) is very enticing in such a hitter-friendly environment. Given how shallow third base is, getting a bench option eligible to fill in there is even more important in deep leagues. Further, the Reds are trying to get him up to speed in the outfield to make him an option for occasional time in left field as well.
Jed Lowrie, SS, BOS - Eligible at both middle-infield spots, Lowrie offers some flexibility for those looking to invest in a young player with an opportunity to see a playing time increase by way of injury to Marco Scutaro, Dustin Pedroia or Kevin Youkilis. He'd also become an everyday option if the Red Sox decided to trade Scutaro at any point. Even if he's able to earn twice as many at-bats as he picked up last season after returning from mono, Lowrie has the ability to deliver 15-plus homers with good runs scored and RBI counts.
Dustin Ackley, 2B, SEA - Another scenario to envision is Jack Wilson being traded by the Mariners at some point. More likely, he'll end up on the DL for a prolonged stretch (he's averaged just 84 games played the last three seasons), which creates an opening for the Mariners' top hitting prospect. Ackley made significant strides from the 2009 Arizona Fall League to 2010. His bat would have been a disappointment as a first baseman, so moving to second makes him a much more valuable rotisserie player. He may have a ceiling of 15 homers at the big league level, but lineup placement could yield to plenty of runs scored, and Ackley projects as a potential .300 hitter.
Brandon Beachy, SP, ATL - It's hard to believe that all 30 MLB teams passed on him in the draft and the Braves were able to sign him as an amateur free agent. Since the start of last season, Beachy has struck out more than a batter per inning at every level from Double-A through the big leagues. He started 2011with six innings of a one-run ball against the Brewers (seven strikeouts, one walk). It might be a case where the projectability from here isn't particularly high, but good control and plenty of strikeouts suggest that he's as much as a viable No. 3 starter at the big league level.
Jake Arrieta, SP, BAL - For owners chasing the likes of Jeremy Guthrie after his impressive first start, the attention should be here instead. Thinking that other WCOFB owners wouldn't have any compelling reason to put more than a $1 or 2 on him as a first week FAAB pickup, Arrieta was snatched from us by an owner more willing to invest a chunk of early season free-agent money, and it could be a costly miscalculation on our part. The control is still a work in progress, but the ceiling is higher than you might think at first glance, especially since Arrieta turned in a 4.66 ERA and 1.535 WHIP with a 52:48 K:BB in 100.3 innings for the Orioles last season.
Matt Harrison, SP, TEX - To say that his eight-strikeout season debut against Boston was a surprise would be an understatement. Harrison was derailed by an injury that was eventually diagnosed as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in 2009 and was slowed by biceps tendinits last season. Add it all up and you get seasons with just 72.1 and 85.2 innings pitched across all levels and valuable lost development time. Harrison is still only 25, and as a former third-round pick, there's a pedigree here to be excited about (he was considered a valuable part of the deal that sent Mark Teixeira to Atlanta and brought Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz, among others, to the Rangers). Durability is a major concern, and his control has been inconsistent at the big league level, but Harrison is a nice target in deeper leagues where pitching may be particularly difficult to come by.
Jarrod Parker, SP, ARI - He's going back to Double-A Mobile to begin the year after missing all of 2010 with Tommy John surgery, but Parker is a future ace. His path to the big leagues will be regaining command of his pitches during his time in the minors before the implosion or injury of Joe Saunders, Barry Enright, Armando Galarraga and (once healthy) Zach Duke creates a permanent place for him. Even if the back of the Arizona rotation is healthy, are you going to bet against that group pitching well enough to keep Parker in the minors during the second half of the season?
Mark Melancon, RP, HOU - Wilton Lopez is also mentioned as a possible replacement for Brandon Lyon, but I'm going to stick with my guns on Melancon. Part of the return in the Lance Berkman deal with the Yankees last summer, Melancon was once hailed as the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera in the Bronx. Bad news for both Lopez and Melancon might be that Lyon is still signed through 2012 for another $5.5 million, which will make it very difficult for general manager Ed Wade to trade him. Nevertheless, Lyon was crushed in his first appearance of the season taking one big step toward coughing up his job, which continually makes him one of the least coveted closers on draft day. Lopez displayed excellent control last season with just five walks in 67 innings, but Melancon shaved his walk rate after the trade to Houston last season and never had terrible control issues in the minors, so there's plenty of reason for optimism.