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Charging the Mound: Setting the Narrative

Chris Liss

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

Jeff Erickson

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

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 3:40am
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging

Baseball season is so long, even after nearly two months, we still don't know most of what's going to happen. For example, you might think that if you knew to draft Leo Nunez, James Shields and Matt Joyce, and avoid Edinson Volquez, Carl Crawford and Joe Nathan, you'd be set. But last year at this time, you could have wished you drafted Ubaldo Jimenez, Dustin Pedroia and Justin Morneau and regretted having Trevor Cahill, Max Scherzer and Brad Lidge. Of course, the accumulated stats still count on your permanent record, and seven weeks of them are significant. But no one is right or wrong yet about a player - except if you thought Jose Bautista wasn't a fluke - and someone like Volquez could have a good three months in him yet, once he learns to throw a strike in the minors. (Honestly, having him go in my World Championships of Baseball league Sunday made me wish The Rapture had happened Saturday as advertised).

With that in mind, I wanted to speculate on some of the stories that have not yet unfolded, but that might over the next four months. See if we can identify this year's versions of the Cahill's, Scherzer's and Lidge's of 2010. Here are a few of mine:

Nyjer Morgan - he's getting close to returning from a broken finger after missing time with a quad injury. Carlos Gomez isn't who they want in the lineup on a regular basis, and Morgan can play center well enough so that they don't miss his defense what much. He can steal 30-plus bases the rest of the way and score 80 runs.

Brian Matusz - he was a monster for the last six weeks of last season, and he's got the pedigree where a major leap wouldn't surprise anyone. Plus, that lineup is capable of giving him some run support. Matusz is due back in the next week or two.

Josh Hamilton - I was beside myself when my $30 LABR purchase got hurt, but he's already back and homered in his first game. He could still go 25-90-.320.

Mat Latos - he started the season on the DL with some should problems and hasn't been entirely right since. Still, he's the type of player who could get in a groove and post a 1.00 ERA for a month with plenty of Ks at any moment.

Zack Greinke - he's got a 6.43 ERA with a 29:2 K:BB ratio in 21 IP. How is that possible? When your BABIP and strand rate are within roughly 100 points of each other, even the most pristine peripherals can be useless. Needless to say, he could be the best pitcher in baseball going forward, and it wouldn't even be that noteworthy.

Jose Bautista - I feel compelled to mention him on an almost daily basis because he's one of the greatest stories in baseball history. He could hit 60 HR and bat .330. Of course, that'll never happen because he *must* regress to the mean. Any day now he will. Trust us, we're the experts.

Mike Stanton - if he stays healthy for 600 at-bats, why shouldn't he hit 45 or 50 HRs? No one regularly hits bombs that distance, and no one has more raw power. The batting average, strikeouts and everything else are a work in progress, but with average luck, Stanton should be a top-three power source, barring injuries.

Desmond Jennings - he comes up in late June and steals 30 bases, scores 60 runs and hits .295.

Brandon Belt - he comes up in early June and goes .290/.390/.490 with 18 HR and 10 SBs.

Brad Lidge comes back in June and is this year's Brad Lidge.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 2:43am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: RE: Charging

Ugh, I don't own Volquez anywhere, but what a disgusting performance again Sunday. The Reds normally-good defense didn't do him any favors, but that was only after he did his own damage first - a recurring theme for him this season. I don't care as much about his goofy comment after the game - as you mentioned on-air, I don't like to get all worked up over a quote, especially when I didn't hear the question that preceded the comment. Anyhow, if the comment was the catalyst to send him down, it still was the right thing to do from a performance standpoint. I do think that he'll be a positive force at some point this season - even before his demotion, he was still getting his strikeouts.

I know that you're right that Morgan will get the playing time for the Brewers. How do I know this in advance? Because I'm getting dump-trade offers that include Carlos Gomez in one keeper league, even though I haven't said that I'm selling. Sure, he has 12 stolen bases, but he also is hitting .222. He's not a keeper, certainly not for anything of value. Even if I have a player with an expiring contract, it's May - don't offer me junk. I'd rather eat the contract than throw off the balance of the league for a player I wouldn't want to keep anyhow.

I'm with you on Matusz - I drafted him in an AL-only Scoresheet league where I went hitter-heavy early, meaning that I'm counting on him considerably (which also means that I'm hurting right now). The O's certainly treated his injury cautiously - and the diagnosis seemed to shift a little. If he returns after his next rehab start, will you have him active for his first major league start of the year, or will you take a wait-and-see approach? Or does that depend upon how he looks in that rehab start? Or, for that matter,is your decision league-dependent? Would you have him active in his first start in F&F, given the low innings cap?

Your future storylines seem pretty reasonable altogether, actually. That sort of annoys me - I want to find some measure of disagreement - it makes for a more interesting article. I put Belt in my latest top 200, under the presumption that the Giants (27th in the majors in runs scored entering Tuesday's play) just have to call him up soon, don't they? I didn't put Jennings in because I'm guessing (and it's really just an educated guess) that he won't be up until around the All-Star break. But that's certainly not written in stone. Sam Fuld's legend has outpaced his play - he's now hitting .224 and batting ninth, looking every bit like the fifth outfielder that he was with the Cubs. The Rays are contending now - if they're still right there a month from now, wouldn't it make sense to eschew the potential costs of arbitration and just call him up?

And you know that I hope the Brad Lidge prediction comes to fruition, given how I've been using one of my DL spots in F&F to keep him ever since you cut him. I know that Charlie Manuel has said that Lidge won't close, at least initially, when he returns. But in the past week Ryan Madson first got hurt and then got hit hard tonight by the Reds. Things can change quickly with relievers.

I'll finish with a few short predictions of my own:

- Joakim Soria spends at least a month on the DL with elbow or shoulder soreness, after he finally discloses that he's been pitching hurt all season. He ends up with fewer than 20 saves for the season. The Royals overcome a good April to fulfill everyone's low expectations of them, winning just 62 games this season.

- Adam Dunn still finishes with 35 homers despite an horrific April and May. The batting averag will still stink - but it'll be on the order of .235 or so, not down at the Mendoza line.

- Kyle Farnsworth finishes the year with 33 saves and a sub-3.00 ERA - i.e., he hangs onto the job all season long.

- The first manager fired this year is *not* the A's Bob Geren, despite the near mutiny on his hands right now. He gets the axe instead at the end of the season.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 1:55pm
Subject: Re: Charging

Soria's not right, something I wrote about last week, so a long DL stint wouldn't surprise me. I was worried about him the moment Brad Evans wrote in the Y!F&F review that I had gotten the steal of the draft with him.

And I agree - who cares what Volquez said after the game. Is English even his first language? But he does need to go down and could very easily pull a Scherzer or a Cahill - he's the perfect type of candidate to do it given that his arm is fine, and it's just his command and location that are off.

I tend to think Dunn will be fine, too. His skill set is too basic to admit of that much long-term fluctuation. BABIP affects him less than most because he's such a three true outcomes guy. I'm agnostic about Farnsworth - maybe he makes it through, maybe not. The Rays defense and park certainly help.

Other players I'm agnostic about:

Chase Utley - no idea what kind of impact he'll make.

Justin Morneau - no idea whether he'll finally shake off the cobwebs and be himself.

Alex Rodriguez - was high on him before the year, and after the start of it, but I wonder if he's entirely healthy now.

Joe Nathan - I was pretty sure about a week ago he'd get his old job back sooner rather than later, but reports are his velocity is still down, and he's still getting hit.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, May 26, 2011 3:09am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

Referring back to your initial e-mail, I just traded Jose Bautista to Steve Moyer on-air today. You were there when we first started talking trade a couple of weeks ago. Here's the background on the league. It's AL Tout Wars - a 12-team AL-only league with 14 hitters and nine pitchers on the active roster. I've got 59 out of a possible 60 hitting points (I'm second in SB's), but I screwed up the pitching. Not only was I a foolish Vin Mazzaro owner a week ago, but I spent on Francisco Liriano and all the fun that entails. Further, I tried to go cheap and dirty on the closers, only to see it backfire with Jacob McGee and Fernando Rodney (yeah, I know better). So the undercurrent is that I have tons of offense and need to make up ground in pitching.

Steve's initial e-mail was Jon Lester and Juan Rivera for Bautista. I thought it might be close, but then Rivera started losing playing time, so I turned it down and didn't press the issue for another week or so. Steve then came back at me with Lester and C.J. Wilson for Bautista, which was closer, but still not enough in my mind. Meanwhile, I countered with Adrian Beltre for Lester, which he also turned down, in part I think because he was set on Bautista and in part because he needed someone OF-eligible. That was after Sunday night's transaction deadline, so when Steve replied, I resolved to get this done on-air this week.

His last e-mail suggested that he would be willing to do Bautista for any two pitchers on his roster. So after playing an Adrian Beltre highlight to start the segment with him today, to hopefully nudge him in that direction (unsuccessfully), we resumed the Bautista talks. We eventually agreed on this deal:

I give: Bautista, Guillermo Moscoso (just picked up this week, got a win for me Tuesday) and Jacob McGee.
I get: Jon Lester, Jered Weaver, Eduardo Nunez.

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments (and anyone else who opts to chime in). Did I extract enough value for Bautista? I paid $27 for him at the auction, but I figure that if we redrafted today, he'd go somewhere between $35-$40. He could very well be worth $45, but there's no way someone in this league pays that price - it's just so rare that anyone tops $35 (which is what I paid for Miguel Cabrera), let alone $40. Meanwhile, Lester and Weaver went for a combined $47. There's more risk on my side, at least inherently with pitchers. But it addresses a major need and might allow me to trade for a closer down the road.

What I'm really getting at is "What's Jose Bautista's real trade value?" We've discussed where he ranks, and I suppose that helps - but how often is someone going to offer you Pujols, Votto or Miggy in a challenge trade? More often than not it's going to be where you're swapping categories of need, I would think. For those Bautista owners out there, what offers have you received/made?

Among your agnostic players, I'm most optimistic that A-Rod comes closest to his expected value, and least optimistic about Morneau. Not once at any point this season has he given us a flash of his pre-concussion self, whereas A-Rod looked fantastic this spring and early in the season at least.

Finally, I hate to see it because of a major injury to Buster Posey, but I'm guessing that if he's out, the Giants have to find a way to get Brandon Belt up sooner rather than later to improve the offense. But then again, I thought he already would have been up by now anyhow.