Expert League Update

Not that the standings really matter to anyone outside these leagues, but I thought I might give an update of what's going on in the two "experts" leagues I'm involved with, and in the process, offer my thinking behind the moves I've made.  Who knows, someone else might be in the same boat I'm in and might glean some speck of wisdom from my Sisyphusean endeavors.

Mixed Nuts

I'm currently in second but it's a somewhat distant second at this point.  Seth Tractman, from Fantasy Insights, got out to a fast start and it looks like he has a strong enough team to stay in it for the long haul.  His offense has been especially impressive and it doesn't appear that too many of his hitters are performing well above expectation.  I don't think there's any way that Hank Blalock can continue at his current pace, especially given his struggles against lefties, but there's little reason to expect him to finish the season below .300 and with fewer than 20 homers.  Likewise, Ray Durham, Juan Pierre and Desi Relaford are playing over their heads, but not so much that they would precipitate a complete collapse of his offense if they returned to their career norms.   The biggest thing Seth's offense has had going for him so far is that he's had very few, if any, injuries and no disappointments, which is highly unusual.

And while his pitching staff isn't particularly exciting, it has enough talent with Byung-Hyun Kim, Jake Peavy, Ben Sheets and Sidney Ponson to stay competitive.  It's not a glamour staff, but it may be good enough.

My strategy, wise or not, is to always draft a pretty balanced squad with no real excess categories to trade.  I figure if my team is good in everything, I don't have to swing any blockbuster deals during the season to win.  I can pick up what I need on the wire or make little deals to get me where I want to go.  Any excess I have will come from the reserves and that's where I can trade from.  Unfortunately for me this year, my reserve squad is filled with the walking wounded so whatever extra stats I do have at the moment are currently on the DL.  I have had several players get out to hot starts.  Edgar Martinez has been especially surprising in the power department.  But for every Edgar and Milton Bradley, I've had a counterbalancing Brandon Phillips or Adam Piatt.  

The one true strength of my team is starting pitching.  With Roy Halladay, Kerry Wood, Adam Eaton, Darren Dreifort, Esteban Loaiza, Ted Lilly and Johan Santana, I had very little doubt opening the season that I would be among the leaders in ERA, WHIP, wins and strikeouts when all is said and done.  And except for a slow start in wins, that has held true.

I'll admit right now that the format of the league does not suit my particular skills in fantasy baseball.  The once per month free agent acquisition is just not my style.  I'm much better at making adjustments on the go, recognizing emerging talent and scooping it up before most people get a good look.  The once per month transactions negate that ability in large part because everyone sees what I see by the time we make transactions.  And this is where I'll probably make most of my mistakes.  In fact, I might have already.

Last time out, I traded Esteban Loaiza for Carl Zeutzius' 2nd overall pick and Mark Hendrickson.  It's not that I don't like Loaiza.  I still have great confidence that he will lead the White Sox' starters in most important categories.  I just didn't see him finishing the year with 21 wins, 200 strikeouts, an ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP around 1.050, which was his pace at the time.  In retrospect, that might have been a poor assumption.  But at the time, I felt his value was at it's highest and that there was a comparable talent on the free agent market, so I could get 2 decent/good starters for one and still have my regular pick.  That other talent?  Joaquin Benoit.

Benoit was impressive in AAA this year and 3 of his first 4 starts in the majors were good, bordering on very good.  I've seen him pitch a few times, including his record breaking 7-inning save last year.  He has a good fastball, but his slider and change can make hitters look awfully silly.  He basically has the same stuff as Loaiza, but his offspeed offerings are probably a little better.  I felt that with the run-support he'd get from Texas, he could win 10-12 games this season without any luck involved.  Of course, that opinion changed when he came down with a sore shoulder this week.  

With my other pick in the first round I chose Rudy Seanez.  I had no confidence in the other Red Sox closing options and he was as good a choice as any.  That theory has since been rendered moot by the Red Sox' trade for Byung-Hyun Kim.  The bonus is that I now get two more weeks to baste in my poor assumptions before the next transaction period.

In retrospect, what I should have done was snatched up either Brian Roberts or Adam Everett for some infield depth, and then been satisfied with either Aaron Harang, Joaquin Benoit or Jeremi Gonzales with my regular pick later in the first round.  Then I would use the excess infielder and a starter to trade for the save help I need.  And actually, I did think of that at the time.  But Adam Everett has never shown he was even a good singles hitter, much less a good fantasy player and Brian Roberts' playing time was iffy after Jerry Hairston returns from injury, so both would have been a hard sell.  Of course, now it has been revealed that because of his incredibly hot start, Roberts may move O's regular shortstop Deivi Cruz to the bench once Hairston returns.  Heh... who knew?     

Tout Wars
After a slow start and a few injuries, my hitting crew is finally starting to come around.  Currently, my squad is sitting in third place, seven points out of first.  My biggest concern is Jeremy Giambi.  While it's true he has been about as bad as he could possibly be, I can't blame him entirely for his struggles.  Red Sox manager Grady Little has yet to start him in more than 2 consecutive games all season.  I'm not sure how any hitter could ever get on track with opportunity so sporadic as that.  Even after the trade of Shea Hillenbrand, he's started only once.  I suspect he will have to have a DaVanon-esque outburst of home run power to snap Little out of his incessant, non-sensical fiddling with the line-up.  

Speaking of Jeff DaVanon, he has been a revelation this season, almost single-handedly offsetting the abyss that has been Giambi's production.  While he won't keep hitting .380 all season, I think he's impressed the Angels enough to keep him around as a 4th outfielder once/if Darin Erstad returns to full health.  Even after, between Erstad and Salmon getting days off, DaVanon should still see a good amount of playing time the rest of the season.  I think his MLEs put him at around a .280-ish hitter with about 15-18 home run power and 12-15 steals as a regular player (550 ABs), so the fact that he's hitting well shouldn't come as much of a surprise.  That he, or for that matter, anyone is hitting this well, is.  

I've been toying with the idea of trading some of my starting pitching for another hitter, but since I've yet to see what the rest of my hitters can do, that urge might be a bit pre-mature.  Giambi has been Little-ed, Kevin Mench has been in the minors until the Rangers clear some roster space and Doug Glanville has been recovering from surgery.  I'm hoping all three can be sorted into regular playing time in the next couple of weeks.  With today's trade of Ruben Sierra to the Yankees and Ryan Christenson's ineffectiveness at the plate, the latter two concerns may be cleared up by the end of this weekend.  Giambi?  Well, who knows with Grady Little.  

Ted Lilly was the pitcher I was most likely going to part with.  He had struggled the last month, but still had enough of that "potential" label that he could fetch a decent return in trade.  What prevented me from pulling the trigger was the fact that he was a flyball pitcher and his best outfield defender had been on the DL for the last month.  But with Jermaine Dye returning from the DL last week, I expected him to perform much closer to expectation.  Not only would he get better defense, but better run support as well.  Well, he did pitch better (against Florida) in his most recent outing, but the offense wasn't there to get him a win.  Oh well.  One out of two ain't bad.

Another concern might be clearing up as well.  When I drafted Johan Santana, I figured that at some point Twins manager Rod Gardenhire would have to come to the conclusion that his rotation simply could not do without Santana pitching every fifth day.  Since the beginning of last year, Santana has clearly been the best starter the Twins had.  A recent back injury to Rick Reed will give Santana an opportunity to force feed this truth his bosses.  He should get at least two starts with Reed now on the DL: one against the Padres and the second against the Diamondbacks.  If he does well against two of the weaker offenses in baseball, coupled with the dominating start he had against Pedro Martinez and a good-hitting Red Sox team, they might decide to let him stay in the rotation even after Reed returns.  Perhaps they could move the struggling Joe Mays (5.40 ERA, 6.03 in May) into the pen to make room.  Not that they need help keeping their Central division competition at arms length, but it'd be nice to see how good the Twins could be this year.  And Santana, the starter, would be a significant move in that direction.  

Also encouraging are the rumors that Ugueth Urbina will get traded to either San Francisco or St. Louis.  San Francisco makes the most sense as they have the young, hard-throwing starting pitchers that the Rangers covet.  The Giants' bullpen has done a very good job keeping leads though, so I'm not sure how urgently they need to trade for an established closer.  Urbina would be more of a security blanket than a bullpen savior.  Regardless, he would probably get 10-12 more save opportunities with a team like San Francisco - a contender that doesn't get many complete games out of their starters and doesn't blow out it's competition too often - than he would with a Texas team that is short on quality starting pitching.

Odds and Ends

The Cubs have been trying to solve their third base situation since they let Ron Santo go in 1973.  There had been rumors this year that they would trade for Shea Hillenbrand or Mike Lowell to finally solve it.  Hillenbrand went out of play when he was traded to Arizona and Lowell might be priced out of range with Florida's demands for a quality arm in return (like they know what to do with one once they get one?  please, no).  

Another solution has presented itself to the Cubs, one that manager Dusty Baker is actively pushing.  Baker's old Giant buddy Matt Williams was let go by the D-backs when they acquired Hillenbrand and he might be looking to finish the season (his career?) with a flourish rather than a whimper.  A similar thing happened to Gary Gaetti in 1998 when he was dumped by the Cardinals.  The Cubs picked him up and he finished the final 37 games that season hitting .320, slugging near .600 and leading the Cubbies to the playoffs.  Could a similar resurrection occur with Williams?  Only if he signs.