It’s almost spring and that means it’s time to start fantasizing about your favorite baseball players. No, we don’t mean the type of fantasy that some of you have about Geovany Soto, although that can be fun too. Of course we’re talking about building your fantasy baseball teams. Many of you are in leagues already and if you’re not, many of us are in continuing leagues that will likely have openings if you’re interested. But this is about which Cub players you are going to want on your team and which ones to avoid if you want to bring home the trophy this September.
When building a fantasy baseball team, my number one advice to everyone is to know your league rules. Know what the categories are and how many players on a team. Know when the trade deadline is and know how often you can change your lineup. I also hope you would know if your league takes all MLB players or just NL-only. (And my one plea to you is to play in a single-league fantasy league. It’s just way too easy to put together a good team in a ten team, both leagues format. You haven’t played fantasy until you’ve got Freddy Sanchez as your starting second baseman and you’re happy about it.)
So adjust the advice below to the rules of your league. In an NL-only format, most Cubs with a starting job will get drafted, as will some middle-relievers. In shallow, mixed formats, we might only see five or six of these players go on draft day.
Geovany Soto: Soto has been on the Bret Saberhagen plan of being good in even-numbered years, so this year should be good, right? Not necessarily. His walk rate, which had been steadily climbing before last season, fell off a cliff last season. His K rate went way up. He looked like a player that suddenly got old, and that happens to catchers sometimes. The power is still there, so grab him late if he’s still there. But don’t overpay for his 2010 stats.
Bryan LaHair: Fantasy seasons are won by managers grabbing someone late who turns in to a fantasy stud. How many of you were in a league in 2010 where some lucky duck just grabbed Jose Bautista to fill out their bench? I’m not saying LaHair is going to have a season like Bautista, but he could return 25 home runs and 85 RBI at a fraction of the price of someone like Mike Napoli. And if he doesn’t, well hopefully you didn’t spend too much, did you? You have a backup, right? That he’s being pushed by Anthony Rizzo should keep the price down in your league. Speaking of which . . .
Anthony Rizzo: I don’t expect Rizzo to be a significant contributor this season. By all means grab him in a keeper league, as he’s the Cubs’ first baseman of the future. But he’ll likely spend at least the first two months in the minors and then he’ll have to fight LaHair for playing time. Leave him for deep NL-only leagues.
Darwin Barney: A lot of people jumped on the Darwin Barney bandwagon last April, and it didn’t turn out so well for them or him. I love Barney, but I don’t want him on my fantasy team. Nothing in his major or minor league stats indicates that he’s anything more than a replacement-level bat. He should be avoided even in NL-only leagues.
Starlin Castro: Castro is still a few years away from being a monster fantasy player. His flyball/groundball ratio went up last season as he’s starting to put some lift in those hard-hit balls. More of them will go out of the park every year from now on. He’s gotten smarter about baserunning, so the steals will go up as he gets more confident. His BAbip has been insanely high the past two seasons, so some regression on his batting average should be expected. But with Jose Reyes’ injury history, I’d make Castro the second shortstop off the board after Troy Tulowitzki in most formats. But he’s still not an elite player. Yet.
Ian Stewart: Remember what I said about Bryan LaHair? You could say the same about Stewart, but I won’t. Stewart has struggled to make contact at Coors Field, where breaking balls don’t have as much bite. While LaHair strikes out a lot, Stewart really strikes out a lot. But he’s got a job and his BAbip was terrible, so some bounce back is likely. If you need power at the corners in an NL-only league, grab him late. Otherwise, he’s worth a final round or $1 flier in a mixed league.
Alfonso Soriano: Don’t forget about Soriano. He’s got an everyday job and his defense is irrelevant in fantasy. He still has 25 HR power and most leagues don’t use OBP, so he won’t hurt you much there. His BAbip was terrible last season, so expect some bounce back in batting average. There wasn’t any underlying reason for the poor average either, like he was hitting fewer line drives or more fly outs. As a cheap source of home runs, he could be a steal on draft day.
Marlon Byrd: Really only an NL-only player. He’s an outfielder without home runs or steals. Don’t buy the hype that he’s "in the best shape of his life." Players always say that and it rarely means anything. He’s getting older and is unlikely to finish the season as a starter.
Brett Jackson: Jackson will probably take Byrd’s job sometime this season. His lack of contact will limit his batting average upside, but his patience will be gold in leagues that use OBP. In mixed leagues he probably won’t have enough playing time this year to make a difference, but he’s a must-draft in NL-only and keeper leagues. He’s a potential 20-20 player next season.
David DeJesus: You have to like the chances for a bounce-back season for an outfielder moving from the AL to the NL and from Oakland to Wrigley Field. But there are some caveats. He can’t hit lefties anymore, so he’ll probably be platooned with Reed Johnson, which will limit his run and RBI total. Wrigley will help his power totals some, but he doesn’t have enough to be a difference maker in a mixed league. He’s also never played in the National League before, so he might struggle in April as he adjusts. Don’t give up on him early (or better yet, trade for him in May) and you’ll have a decent 4th or 5th outfielder in a mixed league or a third outfielder in NL-only.
Tony Campana: If you’re in an NL-only league or a really deep (20 teams or more) mixed league and you’re short on steals, Campana is like Flintstones vitamins for your steals category. He won’t get enough ABs to help or hurt you in batting average. He might score a few runs, but don’t expect any RBIs or home runs, unless the Padres move Yonder Alonso back to left field.
Matt Garza: The big issue with Garza is where he’s going to pitch, although pretty much anywhere other than Chicago would be an improvement for him. The strides forward he made last season were real, so expect more of the same no matter where he pitches. Garza should come off the board right after the elite arms go.
Ryan Dempster: My advice to you is if you want a Cub, you’ll get more bang for your buck with Ryan Dempster than any other player. Dempster’s season last year was superficially terrible, but his underlying numbers and scouting reports say he was the same pitcher last season as he was in 2009 and 2010. He also never gets hurt, which is a big deal with pitchers. With better luck and a Cub defense that should be slightly improved, I’d expect a return to 12-13 wins, close to 200 strikeouts and an ERA in the mid to upper 3s.
Paul Maholm, Chris Volstad, Travis Wood, and Randy Wells: These guys are all pretty alike in their fantasy value. Volstad is probably the only one with any real upside, but none of them strike out enough batters to make them worth your while in mixed leagues. In NL-only, I like them in that order.
Carlos Marmol: I can’t own Marmol since I started having my gastro-intestinal problems. It’s bad enough on my stomach watching him save games for the Cubs, I don’t need that added stress on my fantasy team. All kidding aside, Marmol is in little danger of losing his job and should get lots of save opportunities along with enough strikeouts to make a difference in your overall totals. If your stomach can handle those shaky saves, go for it. I’d be sure to have a second closer who was more of a sure thing though.
Kerry Wood: Many fantasy managers ignore set-up men, and this makes sense in shallow leagues. But in a deeper league, a set-up man like Wood can get you as many wins and lower your ERA and WHIP compared to a crappy sixth starter, who will just get you more strikeouts. Wood may not be the best choice out there because of his injury risks, but if you love the guy and want him on your team, he’ll likely help you more than hurt you. And maybe, just maybe, Marmol will finally melt down and Wood will inherit the closer’s job.
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