Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
We selected Boston as our World Series winner prior to the season due to our belief that their fusion of sabermetric principles, extensive scouting, and a budget far superior to that of Oakland would produce the first sabermetric champion. Theo Epstein, from the time of his hiring, added inexpensive quality bats while improving Boston's pitching depth throughout the season. Todd Walker, David Ortiz, Kevin Millar, and Bill Mueller pushed the Red Sox to the highest slugging percentage in major league history. Acquisitions of Byung-Hyun Kim, Scott Williamson, Scott Sauerbeck, Jeff Suppan, Todd Jones, Bronson Arroyo, and even AAA depth like Dicky Gonzalez also added a welcome infusion of quality relievers and AAAA arms to a questionable staff. Now Boston needs to win two consecutive games in Yankee Stadium to advance to a very winnable World Series and dispel the Curse of the Bambino.
Of course, regardless of the outcome of the next ten days of baseball, we expect Theo to make major changes in the off-season. The only current Red Sox who are under Boston's control past 2004 are Manny, Johnny Damon, Mueller, Tim Wakefield, Bronson Arroyo, Casey Fossum, Alan Embree, and Ramiro Mendoza. With a lack of hitting prospects in the upper minors, Boston faces several tough decisions.
Our belief is that Nomar is the most important part of this team given his offensive upside, ability to play a solid shortstop, and popularity among fans; he needs a career deal this winter. The arbitration eligible David Ortiz, Scott Sauerbeck, and Scott Williamson also look like players willing to sign reasonably priced 2-year contracts with options for 2006. While Manny's behavior will cause occasional problems for the manager, his bat is nearly irreplaceable, particularly since I don't see any club outside of Boston's AL East competitors with the willingness to assume his contract. Trot Nixon and Millar only belong on this club beyond 2004 if they don't demand extreme raises. Boston should let Varitek depart next winter if Kelly Shoppach appears ready after a year of AAA.
The biggest change that Boston requires on offense is at second base, where Todd Walker may depart as a free agent. Boston's best options include re-signing Walker, overspending to grab Luis Castillo or Kaz Matsui, or dealing for Jose Vidro, Adam Kennedy, David Eckstein, Jerry Hairston, or Junior Spivey. Given Boston's apparent desire to alternate left-handers and right-handers throughout the lineup to maximize platoon advantages, along with their insistence on avoiding platoons wherever possible, acquiring Vidro is the best move. He can slot 3rd between right-handers Nomar and Manny, improve the infield defense, and allow Damon and Nomar to run at the top of the order. We rank Byung-Hyun Kim with the best young pitchers in the majors, however he doesn't appear comfortable in a major media market right now. Packaging him with a low-level pitching prospect or two should secure Vidro, especially if Boston adds enough cash to allow the Expos to retain Vazquez and Livan Hernandez despite the approaching Montreal payroll purge. With Ortiz, Millar, Nixon, Mueller, and Varitek completing the order in 2004, they should own the major's best offense indefinitely.
Unfortunately, while solidifying the lineup and bullpen appears simple, Boston's rotation is a mess. Tim Wakefield is the only certainty here, although Bronson Arroyo, Casey Fossum, and even Dicky Gonzalez deserve the chance to compete for no less than one available rotation spot. Alternating Arroyo and Fossum as 5th starters and long relievers depending on match-ups strikes me as one intriguing possibility.
Pedro's health concerns make him a very risky sign, especially at anything around his $17.5M 2004 salary. Derek Lowe's inconsistency similarly makes a long-term extension questionable. We also don't expect the Red Sox to exercise Jeff Suppan's $4M option for 2004. Byung-Hyun Kim could be a welcome addition to the rotation if Boston finds another way to grab Vidro or finds a less-appealing alternative.
Yet entering next off-season with the possibility of losing Pedro, Lowe, Millar, Nixon, and Varitek for only draft picks doesn't seem likely to appeal to Theo and Boston's braintrust. Even the Red Sox likely won't spend the $60+ million necessary to keep Nomar, Manny, Pedro, and Lowe beyond 2004 given the general desire for payroll flexibility. Therefore, either Pedro or Lowe seemingly needs to go.
Boston almost can't go wrong here, however I would keep Lowe due to his dominance at Fenway thanks to his excellent groundball ratio. Moving Pedro will be as unpopular a decision in Boston as allowing Clemens to leave, however I see several possibilities. The easiest trades to make involve shipping him to Anaheim, Oakland, or Seattle in exchange for a young starter, Ramon Ortiz, Mark Mulder, or Joel Pineiro respectively, and a couple of top prospects. However I hate the idea of dealing Pedro to another AL team. NL teams who can absorb most of Pedro's contract include the Dodgers, Mets, Cubs, and Phillies. As Mark Prior is untouchable, the most intriguing targets among these teams are Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Juan Cruz, Randy Wolf, and Brett Myers. Of course, I just don't see the Cubs dealing for Pedro given Kerry developed in the Chicago system, and the Mets won't deal the minimal package of Jose Reyes and Scott Kazmir that Theo should demand for Pedro. Los Angeles could offer Kevin Brown and a top prospect, adding needed payroll room beyond 2004, but the Dodgers need to focus on adding offense, not improving a superb pitching staff.
The Phillies strike me as the most logical destination for him given their new park, their ability to pay for a top starter with Millwood likely leaving, and the approach of impressive pitching prospects like Ryan Madson, Gavin Floyd, and Cole Hamels. A package of Myers, Floyd or Hamels, and maybe Chase Utley or Travis Chapman gives the Red Sox a very skilled young starter, an elite prospect, and an inexpensive infielder. Acquiring Pedro provides the Phillies a Hall of Fame ace to pair with their developing lineup and cadre of young starters, reunites him with former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, and keeps a rotation spot open for someone like Madson.
Regardless of Boston's finish this post-season and projected budget, I don't believe an unsigned Pedro is conducive to long-term harmony in the Red Sox's clubhouse. Even though he could go into the Hall of Fame wearing a Red Sox hat, adding a couple of youngsters for a perpetual injury risk seems like a wise move, especially when the team looks ready to dethrone the rapidly aging Yankees from the top of the AL East for the first time in years.
Andy Abad, 31, 1B/OF-L
One of the most promising hitters in the upper minors, Abad possesses both excellent plate discipline and solid power. He consistently posts an OBP around .400, and his 51 extra-base hits at Pawtucket this season should draw attention from some teams. Unfortunately, despite his solid season and my belief he would reach double-digit value if given a regular job while performing similarly at the plate to players like Doug Mientkiewicz and J.T. Snow, Abad likely will never see extended playing time in the majors. Never hesitate to add him as roster filler, but don't invest more than a buck or two in him until an organization gives him at least a big league platoon job.
While Brown pitched effectively as a starter for Cleveland, he dominated upon joining Pawtucket and moving to the bullpen, compiling a 39:5 K:BB in 51.2 IP over 3 GS(18G). I expect him to challenge for a bullpen spot in the spring before spending the season on the Boston-Pawtucket shuttle. Brown might develop into a great short reliever in the near future, but I instead suspect he'll emerge as a competent middle reliever over the next couple of seasons.
Colorado suckered Boston into dealing Rule 5 pick Javier Lopez to the Rockies in exchange for Cameron. While Lopez emerged as one of baseball's best young lefty relievers, Boston's bullpen largely imploded and Cameron's poor skills necessitated a demotion to Portland, where he returned to the rotation. His success as a starter suggests he'll remain in that role in 2004, however I don't envision him ever seeing much time with the Red Sox. Expect his inclusion in a trade sometime in the next season, as Cameron possesses more value to teams accustomed to building an effective pitching staff without the resources of a club like Boston.
After spending 2002 in the Atlantic League, Chapman returned to organized baseball and resumed establishing his credentials as a future LOOGY. Unfortunately, unless he succeeds immediately upon finally finding a regular role above AA, I don't know if he'll ever see more than a cup-of-coffee in the majors.
De la Rosa probably ranks as Boston's best pitching prospect after making an amazingly successful transition to AA as a starter. Although he needs to develop more stamina, his effective dominance of the Eastern League will make Boston consider him for a bullpen spot during spring training before likely letting him mature for one more season in the minors. The downside to drafting him is that the Red Sox easily could move him before he reaches the majors, however de la Rosa's significant upside suggests owners in deeper leagues should consider drafting him next spring.
Dominique's unsvelte physique won't appeal to many teams, but after emerging as one of the International League's best hitters, he at least earned a long look in Boston's camp next spring. He owns decent plate discipline, considerable power potential, and sufficient athleticism to warrant a spot in the majors as a right-handed bench player and backup catcher in the Craig Wilson mold. While Dominique lacks Wilson's upside, he appears ready to contribute in the majors and prepared to help fantasy teams as long as he qualifies at catcher.
Only the relative scarcity of solid AAA shortstops and the lack of respectable rookie talent among Boston's upper level position players led me to include Dransfeldt here. Although he still possesses decent power, his lack of a reliable contact rate and weak walk rate make him an unacceptable fantasy option.
French's inconsistent plate discipline and lack of power made him fairly useless to Boston even though his speed compared favorably with anyone in the organization. I'm not surprised that he joined Tampa Bay as a minor league free agent a few days ago, and I expect him to vie with Jason Tyner and Damian Rolls for a pinch-running job on the Rays' bench. Keep him in mind as a potential Dollar Days pickup who could approach double-digit value if Piniella uses him a couples times a week.
Headley's falloff in his second year above A-ball likely condemns him a AAAA career at best. Don't expect to see him in the big leagues soon even if he's one of Boston's best internal options in the upper levels of the system.
Following over five years spent developing him into one of the better relievers in their system, Montreal dumped Hebson after only two outings, and Boston immediately snatched him off waivers. Although his slight homer problem concerns me, Hebson's success in the AFL thus far reinforces my belief that the Expos significantly erred in losing such an impressive homegrown pitcher, not to mention a former first round pick. Hebson should compete for a bullpen job in Spring Training, and while I don't expect him to break camp in the majors, he will contribute during the season as needed, which means you should keep him in mind as potential roster filler.
The former San Diego prospect regained his effectiveness after dropping down a level, however his homer rate suggests that he won't remain a starter much longer. I expect Herndon to emerge as an effective reliever in a couple years if he improves his strikeout rate in the bullpen while maintaining his solid control. Of course, he won't contribute to successful fantasy teams in the next few years, but he still possesses intriguing upside.
I hope Johnson returns to Boston to fill Tim Young's role at Portland. Johnson certainly appears to possess sufficient skill to develop into a successful big league reliever. Only slightly elevated homer and walk rates worry me. As his excellent strikeout rate at least should earn him his first extended AAA experience for some organization, Johnson could emerge as decent roster filler as soon as mid-2004.
Originally drafted by Houston in 1993, Kester spent several seasons in the Astros' system, a couple of years in Taiwan, and even some time in the Italian League before excelling in the Atlantic League in 2002. Boston grabbed him prior to the 2003 season, and he rewarded Theo & Co. with a very impressive AA season. I see no reason Kester shouldn't quickly advance to the majors. Unfortunately, after a decade in the game without even a AAA appearance, I suspect most teams will focus on his 10.6 hit rate and what I suspect are unimpressive scouting reports rather than his outstanding 6.1 K:BB. Kester merits a long look in a spring camp, however he'll need to receive an unlikely invite even to obtain the necessary opportunity, so we likely won't see him on any fantasy free agent lists in the foreseeable future.
Martinez spent about a week with Pittsburgh following the Scott Sauerbeck trade and then returned to Boston in the Jeff Suppan deal. Apparently, he received fairly solid coaching at Altoona, since he joined Pawtucket upon his return and largely dominated the International League over the last month of the season. While his relatively slow progress concerns me, Martinez' strikeout rate and improving control suggest he could develop into an impressive short reliever. You still should wait until a team commits a big league roster spot to him before considering Martinez for fantasy teams, but he looks like the best closing prospect in Boston's system right now.
While Sherrod appears in line for a cup-of-coffee next September, Boston's resources suggest he isn't likely to see regular playing time until he finds another organization in a few years. Keeping him at Pawtucket for a couple seasons at least provides the Red Sox with decent depth in case of injury, although Sherrod's unimpressive contact rate and power potential suggest most owners only will employ him as occasional roster filler unless he lucks into an unexpected starting job at some point.
I certainly didn't expect Shibilo to find himself in AA this season, particularly considering his skills at Pawtucket look quite solid. While he certainly possesses sufficient talent to develop into a useful contributor in a big league bullpen, Shibilo instead appears likely to spend most of another season in the minors. He probably won't emerge as even viable roster filler until 2005.
Although Shoppach's .76 contact rate indicates he requires at least another year of seasoning, smashing an extra-base hit every two games helps demonstrate his impressive upside. He owns solid plate discipline and could develop into one of the best power-hitting catchers in the majors. Anyone dependent upon Jason Varitek should make every effort to acquire Shoppach. While Boston could re-sign Varitek and deal Shoppach, the cost-effectiveness of employing a young catcher makes the youngster a very attractive prospect for minor league drafts next spring.
Unlike elder Sea Dogs like Tim Kester and Jake Chapman, Stevens' relative youth and exceptional 1.1 BB/9 should earn him a spot on Boston's 40-man roster within the next couple of weeks. The Yankees stupidly let him leave the organization a year ago even though he posted a 77:16 K:BB in 77 IP, so only his emergence as an impressive starting prospect is a true surprise. He should rank among Boston's better prospects on most spring lists even though he'll turn 26 next summer, yet like most decent players in the Red Sox system, I suspect he's more likely to find himself included in a deadline deal than to see many innings in Boston.
Boston happily grabbed Stewart as a minor league free agent a year ago and gave him his first full AAA season. Unfortunately, while Stewart demonstrated decent control, a falling strikeout rate kept Boston from purchasing his contract this fall. He could return for another season at Pawtucket, however I expect he'll look for a team desperate enough for decent pitching to overlook his limited dominance given his respectable WHIP. While I still like his long-term upside, I don't expect to see Stewart in the majors in the near future.
Michael Lewis' Greek God of Walks effectively bombed upon debuting in AAA as his .81 contact rate and lack of power somehow dragged his BA way below the Mendoza Line. Youkilis also committed 24 errors in 122 games at third base, an acceptable total but not an impressive one. The good news is that his .487 OBP at Portland is simply fantastic, and even if he lacks extra-base power, a .28 walk rate and .87 contact rate will keep him employed a long time if he can maintain those marks while advancing to the majors. Our limited sample size presents warning flags, however I still expect Youkilis to emerge as a welcome addition to the Boston lineup. Your actions regarding him depend on your league. If his current owner thinks his AAA performance creates an obvious warning flag, try to acquire him cheaply. Of course, if a dozen Moneyball fans view him as the next Wade Boggs, ignore him indefinitely. The truth lies somewhere in between as Youkilis' AAA contact rate supports a better batting average even though his lack of extra-base hits could leave Youkilis' career resembling that of Dave Magadan. While I still fully believe he'll approach $20 sometime in the next few years, I doubt he'll approach double-digit value in 2004.
Aside from players listed above, no other Boston prospect deserves consideration in 2004 fantasy drafts.
While Theo promised to develop a player development machine when he assumed the GM job a year ago, the Boston system remains largely barren of talent. Deals with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati didn't cost any high-upside prospects, although I also don't see too many future stars remaining in the Red Sox system. Youkilis, Shoppach, and a couple pitchers like de la Rosa and Martinez should contribute in the near future, but aside from impressive depth in AAAA right-handed relievers, Boston's minors don't impress me at all.
Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2003, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:
1. Anaheim Angels(Amezaga, McPherson, E.Santana, Quinlan)
3:15: Boston @ New York Yankees
Boston will win today behind a surprisingly strong performance from the wily Burkett to force a fantastic Game 7 rematch between Pedro and Clemens in New York. While we can't believe the Cubs managed to lose last night, we still believe Kerry can beat Redman tonight as we expected both series to go 7.
1. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
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