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Charging the Mound: Panic Time on Upton?

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire.com and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 10:29pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Charging


The Diamondbacks are playing terribly right now - five games under .500, and just 10-16 at home. Meanwhile, the Dodgers are still out in front but are vulnerable right now, thanks to Matt Kemp's relapse of his hamstring injury, but they're still nine games out in front of the Diamondbacks. Justin Upton has had a miserable season, posting a .705 OPS before getting benched for the second time in four games Tuesday night. Against this backdrop, the team's managing general partner Ken Kendrick torched both Upton and Stephen Drew on a local radio station. I can get the criticism of Upton to a certain extent - he's the team's best player, or at least is supposed to be, and he hasn't performed. But I think that early season thumb injury is part of the problem, and even Kendrick acknowledged that before blowing it off as a factor. But his comments on Drew seemed pretty weak, at least without divulging the details for them:

"I'm going to be real direct about Stephen," Kendrick said. "I think Stephen should have been out there playing before now, frankly. I, for one, am disappointed. I'm going to be real candid and say Stephen and his representatives are more focused on where Stephen is going to be a year from now than on going out and supporting the team that's paying his salary. All you can do is hope that the player is treating the situation with integrity. Frankly, we have our concerns."

Buster Posey's injury got a lot more play than Drew's, but Drew's was just as gruesome. I get that Kendrick is frustrated at the team's play and is blowing off steam, but I think this criticism here is pretty far off the mark. The Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro made a pretty good case in favor of Drew on his Twitter timeline.

Anyhow, that the Diamondbacks are falling back to the middle of the pack is no surprise. Teams that make big jumps one year all too often decline the next, and while the team has a younger core, it's not a shock they've fallen prey to that effect. But in your opinion, what's wrong with Upton? It's two months into the season now - can we still say it's early? Is this a prime time to trade for him? Looking at other issues with the Diamondbacks, when do we see Trevor Bauer? Where would you put him among other starting pitchers? What else can they do to fix their current position?

How about the Tigers - is there anything they can do to correct their current woes? They are banged up right now, but other than Doug Fister, most of their injuries have come well after their slow start. Is this just a Stars-and-Scrubs team, or are they fixable? What fantasy opportunities do you see among their slow starters? Was Austin Jackson for real before he got hurt? Would you trade for him now, before he comes back from the DL?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 12:20am
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging


I don't know the answers to injury questions any better than any of our readers, but I would buy Upton on principle just as I would buy Tim Lincecum even though he's getting knocked around by the Padres as I type this. If Francisco Liriano can put together two good starts, Lincecum - and Upton - surely can turn it around as well, and the payoff with players like that can be huge.

I don't know the details about Drew, but his brother wasn't exactly the best P.R. guy for himself after ditching the Phillies for more money, getting hurt seemingly every year and having about as much enthusiasm for the game as your average robot. Not that you have to throw your helmet every time you ground out like Paul O'Neill, but showing some passion or even child-like enjoyment for the game helps one's cause. Baseball is a business ultimately, but as in any other business you at least have to pretend to care. I mean you can't even go into an interview with Goldman Sachs and say: "You know, I'm only applying here because I want to make boatloads of money." You have to pretend at least to love finance, love being part of the elite team, etc. You have to fake it at least a little bit even at a job where making money is the only purpose of working there. So think about how much more you have to seem into it at a job that people would do for free. I don't know enough about Stephen Drew to say whether he's that similar to his brother in terms of appearance, but if he is, it probably annoys the guy paying him nearly $8 million this year.

And this brings up an interesting point - if you're on a one-year deal, is it worth rushing back, having worse rate stats, possibly risking aggravation of an injury to help your struggling team at the expense of your possible big payday? Should the player who's getting an astronomical sum by any normal person's standards put his personal jackpot aside, or should he realize that if the team is unwilling to long-term him, he'll be somewhere else anyway next season, so why bother? How much loyalty should a player have to his current team? I think in the NFL it's none, because they'd cut you at the drop of a hat, but in MLB, where they've guaranteed you the money, you should come back as soon as it's not entirely foolish to do so. But again, I really don't know whether Drew falls into that category, or whether he's actually doing all he can to come back, but just isn't rah rah enough about it for his petulant owner's tastes.

The problem with the D-Backs though also has to do with the starting pitching. Ian Kennedy and Dan Hudson broke out last year, and this year they've been either injured or not nearly as good. Bauer could help solve the problem, but we'll see if he can get away with the command problems at the big-league level. Clayton Kershaw and Lincecum weren't great when they first came up for that reason, too, and it's hard to say Bauer will be substantially better than they were when he gets the call, likely soon.

The Tigers just aren't a very good team. Austin Jackson is for real - he's in a growth phase, improving his plate discipline, developing power and plays Gold Glove defense. I would trade for him, but I can't because he's on most of my teams already.

-----Original Message-----
From: jeff@rotowire.com
Sent: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 9:05pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging


You're right about it being buying time for Upton - of course, there's a risk that the thumb injury will still linger, but the price is going to be right. We asked our listeners about Upton, and the response was uniform in favor of panicking. Here are a couple of examples:

"Starting to worry? Way past that. This guy's garbage. Never going to make the mistake of drafting this turd ever again."

"Panic time was a month ago."

For me, that means it's a perfect time to go shopping. The only problem is I already own him in a couple of leagues, and there are others with no trading. But I'll make a stab in all of the leagues that do allow for trading - I don't think there's a time when you'll find a lower price.

Your question about rehabbing players is a good one. I think you've got it right about the NFL - there's so little guaranteed, and in many cases, the risks are so high. We've all read the stories about the concussions and the damages they've wrought, we've read or seen what's happened to the players from our youth like Earl Campbell and what a wreck he is physically. In baseball it's different for most of these players, but I'd say a large part of the equation is the severity of the injury. A pitcher trying to work through a barking elbow for a sub-.500 team? The bigger the chance that aggravating the injury has long-term implications, the more I'm in favor of the player being extra cautious. Something like Drew's injury qualifies for me.

I worry about Bauer getting squeezed once he comes up - that definitely happened with Kershaw, and given that Bauer is going to come in with a rep of being wild, I can't imagine him getting many marginal calls initially. And those calls on the margin matter so much - not just as a matter of putting runners on, but also how it affects the pitcher on the mound. Does he keep trying to pound the corners, or does he center it more? Is his stuff so good that he can get away with having to center it more if he does that? It might be in the case of Bauer, judging by his strikeout rates so far, but he'll be working with less of a margin for error.

It's getting tougher for the Tigers, too, with Alex Avila now on the DL. We all knew ahead of time that the defense would be bad, and it's coming at a time when a good percentage of the league is going the other way in looking to emphasize defense. They've got plenty of other issues, including a total void at second base, so it's not all that. You've gone on-record that the White Sox will win the division - any chance that the Tigers can rally for the wild card, or are they just done? Is there a bigger disappointment out there?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 9:19pm
To: jeff@rotowire.com
Subject: Re: Charging


I'd roster Bauer for the Ks, but I think his ERA will be in the high-3.00s, low-4.00s, and he'll straddle the line between walking too many and getting too much of the plate like Lincecum and Kershaw did. But if he follows their path, you'll obviously want to own him in 2013 and beyond.

I love that Upton owners are panicking, and I will send out offers as soon as I finish typing this as a result.

And just to clarify - I'm not blaming the Drews for their lackadaisical appearance. J.D. Drew despite lacking all outward enthusiasm was a good, but injury-prone player who got on base, hit for power and played good defense. And Bernie Pleskoff opined today on the radio that his brother is a plus defender at short. But I am saying that appearing into it is unfortunately part of the job description for some teams, and Stephen Drew is perhaps getting an unfair shake because of that. Personally, all things being equal, I prefer to watch a guy who seems to care, but give me a productive robot over a crappy "rah rah" guy any day.

Of course the Tigers *could* turn it around and get a Wild Card, but it's probably less likely than winning the division because the Angels/Rangers should account for one, and the AL East should account for at least one. I think Detroit would have a better chance catching the Sox.