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NL Shortstops: Day Three
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.

Damian Jackson27570.2555231544S2O
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 32B:R    T:R885.11.8

Although Jackson failed to break camp in the majors, he joined the Padres in May and even emerged as an occasional starter. His move to the Nationals virtually guarantees that he will spend a majority of 2006 in Washington, potentially presenting him with an opportunity to supplant Cristian Guzman at shortstop. Of course, I instead expect a rebound from Guzman will leave Jackson scrounging for at-bats from the end of the bench, so do not risk anything more here than an endgame ante with the goal of netting a dozen steals from your MIF slot.

Khalil Greene436109.2501570551S
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:R    T:R8811.58.7

The runner-up to 2004 NL Rookie of the Year Jason Bay, Greene suffered through a sophomore slump nearly camouflaged by the merely minute changes in his quantitative stats. However, his walks dropped by more than half, which when combined with twenty-three vanishing points of BA caused his OBP to drop to an atrocious .296. More disturbingly, Greene seemed increasingly fragile, suffering a broken finger in April that cost him a month and then a broken toe in August that left him on the DL for two more weeks. The good news is that he demonstrated plenty of power potential, and when his patience and BA rebound this summer as expected, Greene should emerge as an All-Star contender. Consider him an obvious bargain anywhere in single digits and an acceptable buy into the mid-teens.

Abraham O. Nunez421120.285544064S23
STL Cardinals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29B:S    T:R7911.28.6

An unexpected third base opening for the Cardinals propelled Nunez to the best year of his career. He then landed a two-year deal with the Phillies, which insures he remains a useful fantasy player. Nunez even may go so far as to force a platoon with David Bell, so despite limited power and negligible speed, expect Nunez to remain a roto asset due to his BA alone while playing fairly regularly.

Jack Wilson587151.257852760S
PIT Pirates4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27B:R    T:R783.912.3

I fully expect Jim Tracy to embrace Wilson, leaving him in the #2 hole despite his .304 career OBP and .299 mark in 2005. Of course, Wilson also posted a more reasonable .337 second-half OBP, and if he skews closers to his September success rather than repeating his awful April numbers, Wilson easily could push back into double digits. Additionally, an improved contact rate should drive a BA spike this year, so expect no less than a .280 average accompanied by a dozen homers and well over 60 RBI.

Alex Gonzalez435115.264545545S
FLO Marlins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28B:R    T:R666.612.1

Additional right elbow problems led to another round of surgery in September, ending a season that largely ruined Gonzalez's value as a free agent. However, while his power vanished, his overall skill set stayed surprisingly strong. An almost certain move to an AL East team provides an excellent environment for a healthy Gonzalez to reemerge as an offensive asset at shortstop. He possesses fundamentally weak plate discipline, but I fully expect that a fairly minimal bid on Gonzalez should secure the veteran's services, netting you several dollars of profit.

Wilson Betemit24675.305420136S3
ATL Braves4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:S    T:R6614.414.4

No longer trusted as a regular shortstop by the Braves, the former top prospect remains in a reserve role this year following the acquisition of Edgar Renteria. While Betemit possesses sufficient plate discipline to retain positive value, I do not view him as someone to target in most leagues given his relatively minimal quantitative upside and a second-half slump that suggests he could struggle if left on the bench regularly. Of course, another injury to Chipper Jones would erase those mild concerns, but unless he falls to the late rounds, Betemit does not qualify as an obvious sleeper.

Alex Cintron33090.273848136S23
ARI Diamondbacks4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26B:S    T:R667.71

Arizona effectively ignored Cintron's rebound, starting Royce Clayton and Craig Counsell in the middle infield. With Orlando Hudson now added at second base, Counsell merely keeping shortstop warm for Stephen Drew, and Damian Easily joining the Diamondbacks' bench, Cintron may not even make the club without demonstrating massive improvement in his plate discipline. He turned 27 last month yet possesses no speed and does not appear capable of using his excellent contact rate to fuel a true power spike. Given the limited opportunities remaining for him in Arizona, Cintron desperately needs a change of scenery and therefore will not merit more than a couple of bucks in any draft until he finds a clear path to more playing time.

Nomar Garciaparra23065.283930028S3
CH Cubs4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 32B:R    T:R5410.97.8

I remain stunned that the Cubs did not keep Nomar rather than wasting millions on far worse players like Neifi Perez, Todd Walker, and especially Jacque Jones. The former future Hall of Famer returned to vintage form once he recovered from a torn groin muscle suffered after a couple of awful weeks in April. Nomar hit .318/.347/.531 with 9 HR, 26 RBI, and an 8:15 BB:K in 179 AB down the stretch, eagerly shifting to third base to cover for the injured Aramis Ramirez. Despite the downside of spending this summer at Dodger Stadium, Nomar should flourish in the more comfortable environment, reemerging as an offensive force while adding first base and outfield to his list of position qualifications. If you see bidding stall in the teens, jump to $19 in an effort to lock up a potential $30 player desperate for an outstanding season to quell his critics and notch one last monster contract.

Cesar Izturis444114.257231848S
LA Dodgers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:S    T:R45-4.22.5

Izturis wisely signed a three-year deal a year ago following his breakout season and even maintained a high OBP through the first two months of 2005. His bat then vanished in June as he posted an unbelievably horrible .105/.154/.116. Growing hamstring problems pushed him to the DL at the beginning of July, and while he came back for another month of duty, back problems returned Izturis to the disabled list in August, whereupon doctors discovered he needed Tommy John surgery to fix his right elbow. The new Dodgers' regime compounded these problems by adding three new All-Star infielders, including the signing of Rafael Furcal, which leaves Izturis at second base upon his return. Izturis may flourish in a less demanding role, but given his fairly weak skills when healthy and a highly uncertain future in the organization, even the upside suggested by his relative youth cannot persuade me to offer more than couple bucks for him in any standard league.

Oscar Robles36499.272534044S3
LA Dodgers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29B:L    T:R344.74.7

The Dodgers added Robles straight from the Mexican League and watched him emerge as the club's starting shortstop following the injury to Cesar Izturis, favoring Robles over Antonio Perez and every other youngster with decent long-term promise. While I admit Robles owns a mildly intriguing skill set, his age and limited power potential give him very little upside without mentioning his failure to steal a single base in eight attempts. Solid plate discipline will keep him on the positive side of the fantasy ledger thanks to his bating average, but Robles similarly never will earn more than a couple bucks unless he unexpectedly reemerges in a starting role.

Damion Easley26764.240930437S2
FLO Marlins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 35B:R    T:R227.32.4

Easley slaughtered left-handed pitching last summer to the tune of a .333/.390/.725 line, however his problems against right-handers prevented him from seeing more playing time. Moving to the Diamondbacks does not give him much more upside due to the infield depth accumulated by Arizona in recent months. He may emerge as a platoon partner for Chad Tracy at third base, but I instead expect no more than minor improvement in these numbers, limiting Easley to roster filler in most standard leagues.

J.J. Hardy37292.247950046S
MIL Brewers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23B:R    T:R129.29.2

Milwaukee awarded Hardy the starting shortstop job following a 2004 campaign destroyed by a separated shoulder that limited him 101 AAA at-bats. He unsurprisingly looked quite rusty in the first half, posting a meager .187/.293/.267 performance despite a 28:25 BB:K in 187 AB. Apparently the promotion of Rickie Weeks invigorated Hardy as he finally teamed with his likely double play partner for the rest of the decade. Hardy registered a .308/.363/.503 second-half line as he grew increasingly aggressive at the plate without losing his overall discipline. He seems set to remain the #2 hitter this year, and after his summer surge last year, I expect Hardy to finish 2006 around $10 as one of the key components of the Brewers' emergence as a viable pennant contender.

Deivi Cruz26069.265520028S2
Age: 32B:R    T:R112.53.5

The veteran infielder joins his sixth team in six seasons after recently signing with St. Louis. Cruz spent most of last year as the Giants' sixth infielder before heading to the Nationals at the end of August and unexpectedly emerging as a starting shortstop in September. His failure to impress in either role indicates he will not replicate the success of Abraham O. Nunez with the Cardinals, so unless Cruz settles into a straight platoon somewhere, he will not earn sufficient fantasy value to leave your free agent list for more than brief periods.

Shortstop Week concludes tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Targeting almost any of the starting shortstops listed above should net a tidy profit. Khalil Greene, Alex Gonzalez, and J.J. Hardy all should build upon their 2005 performances, though if you do not the mind the obvious injury risk, only Nomar Garciaparra offers a reasonable likelihood of netting a double-digit return on your initial investment.

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