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NL Shortstops: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

National League Shortstop with Positive Draft Value

Quick Key to the tables:
AB = At-bats.  H = Hits.  BA = Batting Average.  HR= Home Runs.
RBI = Runs Batted In.  SB = Stolen Bases.  R = Runs.  B = Bats.  T = Throws.
Pos = Position qualification based on 20 appearances or max. # of games in 2005.
Age = Player's Age as of October 2, 2005.
4x4 = BA, HR, RBI, and SB in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
5x5 = BA, HR, RBI, SB, and R in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
RAR = Runs Above Replacement in 2005; Adjusted RAR = RAR modified to
consider a player's 2005 defensive rating in Scoresheet fantasy baseball.

We ranked players in order from the highest draft value in a 4x4 league to the lowest. As the majority of fantasy leagues allow you to keep anyone traded to the other league, we listed each player in the league where he started the season.

Jose Reyes696190.2737586099S
NY Mets4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 22B:S    T:R434014.410

With nearly two full seasons in the majors, superb roto value due to his speed, and only his 23rd birthday approaching in June, Reyes possesses both tremendous short-term and long-term fantasy upside. A healthy Reyes exploded atop the stolen base leader charts with his steals and forty-eight extra-base hits easily offsetting his poor OBP. Now I expect him to move toward the plate discipline he demonstrated in the minors with the support of a batting order featuring Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Carlos Delgado. Even a potential drop in steals due to a slightly more conservative organizational game plan easily will keep him around $35, making Reyes a good buy anywhere in that neighborhood while he challenges for $50 sometime in the next few seasons.

Rafael Furcal616175.284125846100S
ATL Braves4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27B:S    T:R393836.331.9

The tremendous hullabaloo surrounding Furcal's free agency seems somewhat silly considering his unimpressive .348 OBP. Switching from Turner Field to Dodger Stadium alone should result in Furcal exchanging a dozen hits for three more homers, a bad trade for a leadoff man vital to restarting a moribund offense. Furcal may remain extremely proficient on the bases, carry his .322/.394/.474 second-half numbers into a true breakout at the plate, and even translate his slowly dropping ground-fly ratio into a significant power spike. Unfortunately, I instead see Furcal disappointing both the Dodgers and any owners that press much above $30 to obtain the speedster. Do not expect any discount here in the vast majority of leagues.

Jimmy Rollins677196.290125441115S
PHI Phillies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26B:S    T:R393837.635.9

Suffering through a mediocre first half did not prevent Rollins from receiving a five-year extension in June, and although he stumbled badly in August with an unconscionable .238 OBP and .494 OPS, he then ended the year on a 36-game hitting streak. With the best contact and stolen base success rates of his career, Rollins only needs slightly improved patience and power to emerge as the league's best shortstop. Of course, his .328 career OBP makes him an imperfect leadoff man, but fantasy owners generally do not need to worry about Philadelphia's winning percentage. Bid well into the $30s for one of the safer values in the game.

Felipe Lopez580169.29123851597S
CIN Reds4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:S    T:R292943.737.8

Lopez took full advantage of this opportunity, pounding the ball in the first half and earning All-Star honors on his way to an overdue breakout. He continued to demonstrate solid patience, and if he further improves his contact and ground-fly rates, he soon will emerge as a .300/30/100/10/30 roto behemoth. Hitting second in Cincinnati's lineup allows him an excellent opportunity to continue developing as he approaches his prime. I doubt many fantasy participants realize Lopez's $40 upside given his languorous path to success over the past four years, but nothing in his stats presents an obvious obstacle to remaining among baseball's best shortstops. Bid to $29 with no regrets while potentially pushing even higher in keeper leagues and any formats that count runs scored.

Bill Hall501146.29117621869S23
MIL Brewers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:R    T:R25243735.7

Only turning twenty-six last week gives Hall plenty of time to continue developing. While I honestly never expected this breakout due to his persistently weak plate discipline, possessing power, speed, and a little patience proved particularly fortuitous for Hall as he emerged as a key starter on the Brewers. He now should hold the third base job until Ryan Braun reaches the majors in a couple years, giving himself plenty of time to further refine his skills into big league success. Of course, I still consider Hall vulnerable to severe BA fluctuation, but barring significant health problems, he ranks as an obvious target in leagues where you can obtain his services anywhere in the teens.

David Eckstein630185.2948611190S
STL Cardinals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30B:R    T:R222226.333.6

A perfectly logical rebound to his 2002 levels, built upon the best skill set of Eckstein's career, resulted in an All-Star start and a season of regret for the Angels' administration that non-tendered the scrappy shortstop last December. His .363 OBP offset his negative contribution on the basepaths, though even if that mark dips slightly, Eckstein will remain a valued contributor as long as he continues to offer Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen plenty of RBI opportunities. The biggest problem here is that Eckstein simply offers little quantitative upside, making $30 a hard ceiling on his value and $20 a much better expectation for 2006. Even bidding past the teens does not make a ton of sense given the multitude of younger options with more upside, so do not plan on building your team around the shortest of big league shortstops.

Shortstop Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: NL owners need to search for power and batting average at the traditional power positions of first, third, and outfield. Allocating around $30 for a speedster at short seems the preferred plan, though if you land a top SB threat somewhere else in your lineup, someone like Felipe Lopez also owns plenty of upside. Anyone that skimps at shortstop likely gives up several dollars of value compared to an equivalent player at a deeper position.

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