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04/04/2007 1:06 PM ET
Fed Up: Rays' Upton taking charge
Former mega-prospect could be primed to fulfill promise

 Ask Rotoman
 Peter Kreutzer

 There's a chance reassigned second baseman Jorge  Cantu won't be back with the Devil Rays this season.  (AP)
Question 1: COMPARE


I'm in an eight-team, 10x10, head-to-head, mixed, non-keeper, daily-transaction league. Would you drop the Marlins' Scott Olsen to pick up either Cole Hamels (PHI) or Clay Hensley (SD) based on my league's scoring: W, L, HR, BB, K, GIDP, ERA and WHIP.

"Losers Lounge"

Dear LL:

The common wisdom is that Hamels is by far the best of this group. Among Major League pitchers, he's been going 29th in drafts, while Scott Olsen has gone 63rd and Hensley hasn't been drafted. Fantasy baseball analyst Ron Shandler says Hamels is a $22 player this year, that Olsen is a $13 player and that Hensley is a $6 player (in NL 4x4 leagues). I disagree with the common wisdom.

Well, I don't disagree with the idea that Hamels is going to cost more. He's a hot property, a young pitcher with a strong repertoire, including a devastating changeup. The reason I'm not so high on him this year is because he has a history of injuries, and because last year at the Major League level was the first time he'd ever avoided throwing too many walks. Maybe he'll be able to sustain that, but before I go crazy for a young starter with a history of control problems, I like to see that carry over to a second season. I'm projecting him to improve by a little this year if he stays healthy, but I suspect he's not all the way ready.

I'm a little higher on Hensley than most, primarily because he throws ground balls, pitches in a pitchers' park and is at an age when pitchers often come into their own. I'm projecting him to have a year like he did in 2006.

As for Olsen, he, like Hensley, pitches in a pitchers' park and has some problems putting guys on base via the walk, like Hamels. Also like Hamels, he's young and needs experience and polish before he should be fully trusted. Olsen had a better second half last year, which may be a sign that he's on his way. I project him to have a year much like last year, with perhaps a little improvement.

These are three pitchers with about equal prospects this year, I think. The obvious strategy would be to pick up Hamels and then deal him for someone who helps improve your team, replacing him with one of the other two. But your league has the wrinkle of the extra categories. If you were going to hold onto one guy, it would be the one who was more valuable in both fewest losses and most double plays thrown.

For losses, we simply look at the expected records of the teams. I would say that Philadelphia and San Diego are about equal, in the 85-90 win range (meaning 72-77 losses), while Florida is a good bet to lose about 10 games more. Give the edge to Hensley and Hamels there.

As for ground balls, which would indicate a greater chance for double plays, Hensley threw 55 percent last year, Hamels 39 percent and Olsen 44 percent. Given that Hamels and Olsen throw more strikeouts, that's a big edge for Hensley, who puts more balls into play and gets a greater percentage of them on the ground.

The bottom line is that even though Olsen and Hamels are the better, more dominant pitchers and are likely to have much stronger careers, for this year and in your league I'd take Clay Hensley.


Question 2: EVALUATE


Should I hold onto Jorge Cantu? Will he play in the Majors this season?


Dear Cantusion:

The problem for Cantu is that despite a big, powerful stroke, he swings too often and doesn't make contact. When he broke his hand last year and struggled to get back, it was all too easy to be reminded that his surprisingly good 2005 was a fluke. His inability this spring to grab hold of the second-base job has opened the door for B.J. Upton, who until recently was seen as a future star.

Upton's problems, until last year, stemmed from his dismal fielding and his insistence on playing shortstop despite making scores of errors. The Devil Rays moved him to third base last year, and he looked somewhat more comfortable there, though his hitting fell apart. Given a chance to become a super-sub this year, Upton seized the second-base job when Cantu faltered, and he has some saying that the shorter throw has helped his "D" a ton. We'll see.

What is certainly true is that Upton's legs figure to help keep him on the team all season long, and if he falters at second, the team has Ty Wigginton (and his much-needed power) to take over there. It's hard to see how Cantu will make it back to the big leagues with the Devil Rays this season unless there are some key injuries.

Still, he's got power of his own, so if you can hold onto him, he may reemerge somewhere this year. But I wouldn't skip any real opportunities to pick up players who will contribute in order to hold onto him. There's a better chance he'll languish in the Minors.


Question 3: RANT


I can't get over this B.J. Upton thing. I keep telling myself that he hasn't done anything yet and that he could easily be as ordinary as he was when he was playing last season, but there were only two people even bidding on him in our AL draft (before Cantu was released) -- me and the guy who wins the league half the time. Needless to say, that guy got him, and for just $10. The half-hearted justifications about not needing a third baseman/corner infielder and targeting that money for other players don't make me feel any better. I have a team that should compete for the title and probably would be considered the favorite had I landed Upton. I wouldn't even be upset if some other random owner had gotten him, but it had to be that smug guy who usually wins. I hate that.

"Fed Upton"

Dear Fed:

Having just written glowingly about Upton, while hardly mentioning all the bases he's probably going to steal, and how he has always looked like he has power, you should remember that he's a 23-year-old (in August) who has never shown he can play the infield on a team that has a full deck in the outfield. It would be great to have him for $10, for sure, but it's too soon to say that he's going to make a difference this year.

Hang in there.


Question 4: THE BIG ONE

Dear Rotoman:

My DL will be full after Jeremy Hermida is added, with Carlos Quentin, Rafael Furcal and Eric Gagne already on the list. Those three are supposed to be back quickly, so I need some quick fixes.

Available free agents (I can add two) are:

Aubrey Huff. Probably the best hitter available, but the O's open up with three in Minnesota.

Brandon Inge/Sean Casey. The Tigers have a soft schedule (Jays, at KC, at Baltimore, at Toronto, KC).

Aaron Rowand/Shane Victorino. For some reason, I see one of them starting off hot, inducing tons of stories on how the Phillies are the team to beat in the NL ... maybe?

Marcus Giles. Give him two solid weeks before he, too, lands on the DL.

Any thoughts?

"Hurt Me"

Dear Hurt:

I wouldn't worry about opponents when looking at replacements if you're looking at more than one or two games. That's because any regular player is likely to get a quarter of his at bats against someone other than a starter or a closer -- especially early in the season, when many pitchers are on strict counts.

So go for the best hitters here, and maybe use the schedule as a tie-breaker. I would think the two best are easily Huff and Giles. They certainly have the most upside of this group. And while it isn't for a long time, they are going to play. The important thing here is getting the at-bats.

We often preach about how early in the season, you shouldn't panic about lack of production from key players. In part, this is because we know that unless there is an injury, most players who get off to bad starts come around. You expect a certain amount of production over the course of the whole season, and in most cases, you get it.

A problem arises when you don't get enough at-bats early in the season. In general, a team's runs, RBI and -- to some extent -- home run totals track with its at-bat totals. If you end up with players on the disabled list and you lose those at-bats, it's very hard to make them up. This is especially important, because as the season progresses, it is generally easier for a team that's in the lead to cement its position than it is for other teams to catch up.

So good luck aggressively filling in for your DL'ed players from the get-go. Getting off to a good start is a big plus.

Until next time,

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