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Sport utility vehicles 

 Feb. 20, 2007
 By Scott Siegler and Todd Carey

You never know when you'll hit a big bump on that fantasy road. At any moment, a top player can go down with an injury, so having positional flexibility on your squad is a must for every savvy owner. But what owner can afford the salary demands or draft picks to ensure depth at every position? The easy solution is to target players who are eligible at multiple positions. This simple, yet powerful concept offers strategic advantages that can significantly increase a player's fantasy value -- which in turn increases what you should be willing to spend to acquire them.

Flexible starters

A multi-positional player affords greater flexibility in finding replacement players in the event of an injury -- or in the event of underperformance. Say, for example, your second baseman gets hurt, but your shortstop is also eligible at second. Now you can look for a replacement second baseman or a replacement shortstop since the latter can be moved to the right side of the infield. With two routes to recovery, you'll be less likely to get backed into a bad trade or forced into overspending on a free agent. Keep this in mind at draft time, and don't hesitate to bump up your offer on quality players who can start at more than one position. Along the same lines, it's a good idea to go after these players early, as they will let you adjust your draft/auction strategy on the fly by reassigning them to a secondary position when an opportunity arises to acquire a new player at a primary position.

Double duty

Using the fantasy-eligibility threshold of 15 games played to qualify at a position, there are a number of noteworthy fielders who can man two positions. Lance Berkman led multi-position eligible players with 552 fantasy points (FP) in 2006, and he'll be eligible at first base and in the outfield in 2007. This combination of positions is also offered by emerging star Nick Swisher, who punched in 418 FP last season, as well as by Kevin Youkilis, who posted 394 FP in '06 and can likewise be expected to improve his numbers.

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A very intriguing option is Chone Figgins, who brings his 429 FP and 52 stolen bases of 2006 to your outfield or third-base position. Remembering the adage that "speed never slumps," Figgins can be counted on to generate consistent fantasy numbers at a variety of positions. Don't be afraid to spend a little extra to acquire his combination of reliability and positional flexibility. Aubrey Huff provides the same flexibility, and his move to hitter-friendly surroundings in Baltimore should lead to an improvement on his 2006 statistics (317 FP).

After notching 408 FP last season, Victor Martinez can pull double duty at both catcher and first base in 2007. Of course, you wouldn't want Victor at first base all season with that level of production. But for a short, injury-plagued stretch, his added flexibility could come in very handy.

The triple play

While there are 43 players with double-position eligibility -- all of whom are plenty useful -- the six who can staff three positions are especially worth noting. The cream of the crop here is clearly Freddy Sanchez. After sporting a .344 batting average and posting 426 FP in 2006, Sanchez can serve at second base, third and shortstop -- three very useful positions to have at your disposal. And Sanchez commanded only a modest $1.25 million average salary at gamedayritual last year, so all this flexibility can likely be had on the cheap.

Another interesting option is Rich Aurilia, who batted .300, smacked 23 homers and averaged 2.77 FP per game in 2006. The versatile veteran is eligible at first, third and short, and he's returning to San Francisco, where he had some of his best seasons.

Utilitymen

Though position eligibility might convince you to spend a bit more on potential starters, it may put some players on your radar whom you might have otherwise overlooked. This is particularly true in leagues where you're able to set positional backups, since marginal multi-positional players can be used to inexpensively back up several positions at once. Mark DeRosa is one player worth targeting for this duty. DeRosa, who's eligible at second, third and outfield, hit .296 with 13 homers in 2006.

Todd Walker and Ty Wigginton, who can play all three of the bases (first, second and third), averaged 2.11 and 2.34 FP/G in 2006, respectively.

Down but not off the list are Shea Hillenbrand (1B/3B, 2.17 FP/G), Aaron Hill (2B/SS, 1.93 FP/G), Nick Punto (3B/SS, 2.18 FP/G) and Tony Graffanino (2B/3B, 2.22 FP/G).

While some of these fantasy point-per-game totals aren't sterling, the value of being able to back up multiple positions with one player should not be underestimated. It's difficult to cover all of your bases with a 25-man roster. Two points a game is a heck of a lot better than the zero you would post if you found yourself unable to back up an injured starter.

Shifting around

As fellow fantasy owners, we can't remember a single season in which we managed to avoid the injury bug completely. In fact, some of our most successful seasons have come about because we were fortunate enough to have the right backups on hand at the right time. The ability to shift your fielders around isn't dumb luck; it takes planning. Targeting the players listed above should help insure you against a variety of fantasy disasters. If "A" is April 1 and "B" is winning your fantasy league's championship, you can expect that getting from A to B won't be as simple as driving in a straight line. But with the right utility players at your disposal, you should have no problem with a little bit of offroading.

Todd Carey and Scott Siegler are analysts and developers at MLB.com Gamedayritual. To learn more about our real-time, online-auction, strategy-driven fantasy sports, visit MLB.com Gamedayritual. Our 2007 player database and minimum salaries are now available to download.

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