Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Montreal could play home games in any one of a half-dozen different places, and Frank Robinson has given little indication as to whether he plans on returning to manage. Only GM Omar Minaya is guaranteed to return to the front office after he turned down the chance to interview with Boston, and his major accomplishments in 2002 were gutting the farm system for a futile Wild Card pursuit and failing to obtain a half-decent first baseman while chasing the playoffs. Now Minaya must find a way to keep his payroll limited despite raises to Vlad, Vidro, Colon, Vazquez, and others. Orlando Cabrera needs to remain an Expo now that Brandon Phillips isn't available to replace him, so perhaps the best strategy is to package Tony Armas, Jr. with Fernando Tatis for prospects to help rebuild the farm system now that Minaya knows no one will contract the team. Montreal could probably acquire Marcus Giles and Matt Stairs for a minimal fee, respectively starting them at third base and left field, while a minor league free agent like Phil Hiatt could play first. These three players comprise the crux of only one of several dozen scenarios in which Montreal can remain in playoff competitive all season long. Florida should remain weak, Atlanta could lose the heart of their pitching staff and the Braves still possess terrible offensive players in half their lineup slots, and despite projected high payrolls, neither New York nor Philadelphia can match the performances offered by the elite Expos. With two of the best position players in baseball and two of the top starting pitchers, along with above average offensive players at all four up-the-middle positions, Montreal possesses enough overall talent to remain competitive deep into next October.
Conversely, if their long-term situation is resolved prior to midseason, Minaya should ransom Vlad, Colon, Vazquez, and perhaps even Vidro to the highest bidder. Montreal can obtain significantly more talent than Cleveland managed to acquire this year given the elite status of all four players, and any prospective owners likely would prefer the reduced financial burden of a team full of promising rookies.
Expect Vlad, Vidro, Cabrera, Barrett, and Wilkerson to remain Montreal starters on Opening Day, and as long as Minaya doesn't waste money on mediocre free agents or rush AA prospects, he should easily assemble a solid offense.
Montreal's pitching staff is even stronger than their offense. Colon and Vazquez give them two aces, and when healthy, Tony Armas, Jr. isn't far behind the others in effectiveness. Tomo Ohka was one of the best fourth starters in baseball this year, and someone like Sun-Woo Kim could be an adequate fifth starter, although adding one decent free agent pitcher for $500K, such as a Frank Castillo or Jason Bere, would significantly bolster the rotation depth.
The Expos also need to select a closer, and even someone like Dave Veres would be a nice fit by allowing the other relievers to settle into more traditional roles. Scott Stewart and Joey Eischen give Montreal two of the best lefty relievers in the league, and Matt Herges and T.J. Tucker are decent right-handed setup men. Guys like Sun-Woo Kim, Jim Brower, Dan Smith, Zach Day, and Tim Drew can compete to fill out the bullpen.
I certainly see obvious holes on this team, but there're also holes that Minaya can fill for very reasonable prices if he's determined to keep the Expos as competitive as possible. Yet he also seems willing to trust rookies, so when prospects like Terrmel Sledge and Seung Song are ready for the majors, I expect they'll get a chance to contribute.
Ron Calloway, 26, OF-L
Calloway is the only one of the Expos' half-dozen OF/1B prospects near the majors that merits a long look in Spring Training; nobody else has shown enough competence at AAA to warrant a promotion. Unfortunately Calloway's skills remain rather week, and while he could contribute a .250-15-55-15 season, he barely possesses sufficient offensive talent to challenge Endy Chavez for playing time. Calloway's worth a few bucks if he somehow earns a starting job, since he could reach double digits, but don't expect any impressive stats from him.
Jamey Carroll, 28, 3B-R
With only seven errors in 115 games around the infield, Carroll possesses the consistent defense usually preferred in a utility infielder. Given his relatively good plate discipline and slight power and speed potential, he also owns the necessary offensive talent to contribute in the majors. I'll be shocked if he receives more than 300 at-bats barring sudden and unexpected improvement in his hitting, however Carroll likely won't hurt you for a buck or two.
Matt Cepicky, 24, OF-L
Cepicky's promotion ranks among the stranger moves of Montreal's season, especially considering he showed so little at AA. He developed slightly better plate discipline this year, however he actually posted a worse slugging percentage in his second season at Harrisburg. Even if the Expos like him as a back-up, there's little in his current skills that suggests he's ready to contribute in the majors or for fantasy teams.
Luis Figueroa, 28, SS-S
Acquired with Bruce Chen and Dicky Gonzalez as the third player in the Scott Strickland deal, Figueroa only spent 29 games at AA despite impressive plate discipline at lower levels. Unfortunately the combination of his advancing age and no secondary skills drastically limits his upside, and he doesn't appear likely to see much major league playing time in the foreseeable future.
Scott Hodges, 23, 3B-L
Montreal adopted a more conservative policy with most of their prospects, giving several players, including Hodges, a second year at AA. While he developed significantly better plate discipline in Harrisburg and finally displayed solid doubles power, he easily needs a year of AAA before he can attempt to win a starting job with the Expos. Even with a potential vacancy at third as soon as Minaya can move Tatis, Hodges would not succeed if given the job now, and therefore you probably should ignore him at least for another year.
Jorge Nunez, 27, 2B/SS-R
Dealing Guillermo Mota and Wilkin Ruan for Matt Herges and Nunez severely hampered the organization by forcing them to overpay Herges for significantly less effective relief work than Mota provided the Dodgers, and Nunez's need for the AAA shortstop job kept Brandon Phillips in AA longer than expected. However other than great stolen base stats, Nunez provided very little to suggest he's worth considering as a prospect. He needs another year of AAA before he even receives serious consideration as a utility infielder and pinch-runner.
Val Pascucci, 23, OF/1B-R
Rotohelp fave Pascucci demonstrated solid home run power in his second season at Harrisburg, but he only added 14 doubles to his 27 homers. A .20 walk rate is fantastic for anyone, however a terrible BA limited his overall effectiveness. While he still should emerge as a valuable bench player and potential platoon starter in a few years, don't expect a noticeable fantasy contribution from Pascucci in 2003.
Terrmel Sledge, 25, OF-L
Sledge may own the best combination of tools and skills of any Expos' prospect in the upper levels of the organization, but he also succeeded largely due to repeating AA, and he needs more than a .263/.359/.413 line in 80 at-bats to merit a starting job in the majors. I don't see much power upside from him at the moment, although Sledge's speed potential is worth some attention. Overall I expect he'll join most of his Senators teammates, spending the year at AAA Edmonton, where their inflated offensive stats should push them into the majors sooner than many of them deserve. The uncertainty in Montreal increases the risk of selecting Sledge beyond acceptable limits.
Brent Billingsley, 27, LH Swingman
A top AA left-hander with Florida back in 1998, Billingsley failed to continue his success at AAA. This is the first season in which he's managed even a 2.1 K:BB above AA. He's unsurprisingly pitching more effectively in relief. Billingsley is quite close to earning a regular job as a lefty in the majors, and if his skills are good in AAA next year, he might not hurt you if needed as roster filler. Many teams should target him in minor league free agency.
Dicky Gonzalez, 24, RH Starter
He's shown outstanding command throughout his seven-year minor league career, but now Gonzalez continues to struggle at times due to weak dominance. His overall stats still indicate a very promising future, although he'd probably find the most immediate success as a middle reliever. Nevertheless, he could easily break camp as the fifth starter, but regardless of his role in the near future, make sure he's posting good skills in the majors before rostering him.
Julio Manon, 29, RH Swingman
Montreal added him to the 40-man roster despite his age because they liked his minor league performance, a move that better illustrates the very weak 40-man depth of the Expos rather than displaying Manon's promise. While he posted impressive skill ratios, he's now split each of the last five years between AA and another level, and I don't envision Manon emerging as anything more than perhaps a decent long reliever. Don't consider Manon as a reliever until at least a month after his debut so you can insure he's posting solid skills before acquiring him; don't bother with him as a starter unless he compiles a couple of excellent PQS scores in his first few starts.
Seung Song, 22, RH Starter
The best prospect in Boston's system before 2002, he's now the best prospect in the Expos's system. Mild arm problems limited his playing time, but Song still compiled excellent skill ratios across-the-board. Song could be ready as soon as June, so there's little need for Montreal to acquire anything more than a fifth starter. He's a very solid draft pick and should easily earn a few bucks towards the end of the year, making him about the only rookie in the system that I eagerly hope to acquire in the spring.
No Montreal prospects seem like good minor league draft targets aside from players listed above.
Scott Ackerman, 23, AAA Ottawa(IL) C-R
Brandon Agamennone, 26, AAA Ottawa(IL) RH Reliever
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
As we're attending the AFL Symposium this weekend, we will be unable to reply to e-mail until later next week. However we will continue posting new columns every day, and I expect to complete these prospect reviews before spending several days discussing news and notes from Arizona.
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