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NL Second Basemen: Day Two
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

National League Second Basemen 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.

Craig Biggio590156.264266911942
HOU Astros4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 39B:R    T:R181912.96

This future Hall of Famer nicely settled into his role as a #2 hitter, registering a .280/.342/.495 line when not asked to hit first or third. His skills still support this power production, and although another drop in steals appears likely, Biggio otherwise seems set for another respectable season after playing in his first World Series immediately prior to turning 40 in December. Advancing age could wreck his stats at any time, but I doubt Biggio, with his solid all-around skills and 67 extra-base hits in 2005, will decline into irrelevancy overnight. Feel free to bid into the low teens.

Mark Grudzielanek528155.2948598642
STL Cardinals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 35B:R    T:R18185.39.9

I fail to see how adding Grudzielanek as the starter over Esteban German measurably advances the Royals toward contention, unless they somehow take advantage of another strong start by the veteran to deal him for prospects as soon as possible. While we fully expected Grudzielanek to emerge as a nice bargain last summer, he somehow owned a .344 BA on June 1st, providing plenty of opportunity for savvy owners to sell high. He unexpectedly returned to that level of performance in August, essentially ranking as an All-Star in three months, a decent starter in July, and unworthy of roster space in June and September. This schizophrenia really cuts his value, especially as he heads into a poor hitters' park while facing a declining skill set. Do not even push $10 on a player whose fantasy utility virtually could vanish between draft day and your first transaction period.

Craig Counsell578148.25694226852
ARI Diamondbacks4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 35B:L    T:R17183.417.3

Above-average play at second base suggests Counsell should prove adequate in his return to shortstop this year. He finally reemerged as one of the more valuable leadoff men by nearly matching his combined steal total from the previous two seasons. With exceptional plate discipline and even a little power, consider him a mortal lock to move somewhere like Boston or Queens by the trade deadline with Arizona clearing a job for Stephen Drew and taking advantage of Counsell's value to a team looking for a MIF boost. Owners participating in leagues where you lose players dealt to the AL should avoid Counsell completely while everyone else generally should let their competitors risk the inevitable decline following this roto career year if bidding nears double-digits.

Ray Durham497144.29012626672
SF Giants4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33B:S    T:R171714.918.1

Groin, wrist, heel, and hamstring problems slowed Durham in 2005, yet he still attained his highest at-bat total since joining the Giants while avoiding the DL completely. A probable move back to the leadoff slot should push him over 500 at-bats, however we are seeing skill erosion here that limits his upside. Durham slipped to a career-worst 3.58 #P/PA, and his 1.39 G-F indicates decreasing power potential. With little likelihood of him exceeding a dozen steals, he looks like a primary asset only as BA support. Bidding into the teens offers little possibility of profit here.

Luis Castillo439132.30143010722
FLO Marlins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30B:S    T:R151610.921.1

I doubt few moves will emerge as more vital to a club's success than the Twins' pick-up of Castillo for Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler. Hamstring and quad injuries bothered Castillo all year, effectively gutting his speed, but he still held an OBP over .400 in four months. Outstanding plate discipline and a consistent stream of groundballs make him one of the most valuable top-of-the-order hitters in the game, which should invigorate the entire Minnesota offense as he settles between Shannon Stewart and Joe Mauer. Consider Castillo a superb target in sim leagues and a solid fantasy addition anywhere he costs less than $20.

Todd Walker397121.30512401502
CH Cubs4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 32B:L    T:R141319.710.8

An MCL sprain cost Walker much of the spring, but he overcame that initial difficulty to post his best numbers in many years. He shockingly broke out against lefties, compiling a .352/.398/.582 performance with 5 HR, 13 RBI, and a 6:10 BB:K in 91 AB that hopefully will dispel the idea he requires a platoon. Experiencing increased difficulty with right-handers proved the biggest detriment to Walker earning everyday playing time, however somehow both the Cubs and the rest of baseball ignored his success in 2005. He now appears set to open the year buried on the Chicago bench, behind Neifi Perez and Jerry Hairston on the depth chart, unless a trade frees the veteran second baseman. Of course, with his solid skill foundation and hints of a power surge, Walker absolutely belongs in the lineup somewhere, so try to grab him at a severe discount on the Cubs while bidding toward $10 if he is dealt somewhere like Tampa, Baltimore, Florida, or Colorado.

Rob Mackowiak463126.27295885723O
PIT Pirates4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29B:L    T:R12124.5-0.4

Brought home to Chicago as the primary utilityman for the 2006 White Sox, Mackowiak almost certainly will drop under 400 at-bats barring a severe injury to someone like Joe Crede. With a career-worst 1.58 G-F also decreasing his power potential, Mackowiak's primary value rests in his defensive flexibility. Moving to the Cell at least provides him a friendlier home park, making him a good buy around $5, but I see no reason to expect him to repeat this fantasy performance this coming summer.

Luis A. Gonzalez404118.2929443512
COL Rockies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26B:R    T:R12125.36.7

While I want to disagree with the premise that Gonzalez will succeed as an everyday player, several factors support his continued effectiveness. Gonzalez turns 27 this summer as he heads into his third full year in the majors. He faces no overt competition for at-bats with Omar Quintanilla and Josh Wilson likely destined for the minors, and although he both failed to take advantage of Coors and struggled against right-handers his sophomore season, his 2004 stats portend a rebound in both splits. Something in the neighborhood of a .310/15/60 season does not seem out of line given his overall development, so although I still see plenty of pitfalls here and expect him to cede playing time to Clint Barmes or Troy Tulowitzki by 2007, Gonzalez looks like a decent investment this spring.

Antonio Perez25977.297323112823
LA Dodgers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:R    T:R1196.311.6

While intelligent baseball fans condemned Jim Tracy just for his inept treatment of Hee Seop Choi, Tracy handled Perez almost as poorly. With his 2004 AAA stats suggesting plenty of upside, Perez apparently angered Tracy by straining his hamstring in April and missing a month on the DL, though he returned in impressive fashion, clobbering pitching in May for a .457/.537/.629 output in 35 AB. Perez then dramatically slumped while playing every day in June, but he nevertheless remained a patient hitter who merited that starting job. Allowing Perez to slip behind Oscar Robles resulted in the Dodgers effectively wasting one of the best steals of Paul DePodesta's tenure in Los Angeles. Now dispatched to Oakland with Milton Bradley in another foolish deal, Perez only requires an injury to any of the Athletics' infielders to reemerge as a fantasy force. I rank him as one of the best non-starting infielders in baseball, fully worth a few bucks to fill an empty MIF slot in any AL league.

Freddy Sanchez453132.29153525423
PIT Pirates4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27B:R    T:R10106.916.2

Winning an everyday job by default did not prove particularly fortuitous for Sanchez as his skills radically declined from his minor league numbers. He only improved during the second half at the cost of his previously impressive plate discipline. With little power potential and vastly diminished speed, Sanchez's batting average provides most of this value, and now his move to the Pirates' bench to accommodate Joe Randa sharply limits his upside. I still view him as a valuable Dollar Days pick-up, but nothing here suggests we should expect him to reemerge as a full-time starter in Pittsburgh.

Mark Loretta404113.2803388542
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 34B:R    T:R1010-0.3-17

The trade of Loretta to Boston for Doug Mirabelli ranks as the worst move of the winter strictly due to the Padres' inability to leverage the value of an All-Star second baseman who still owns very solid skills. Tearing a ligament in his left thumb in mid-May nearly cost Loretta the entire season, yet he overcame two months on the DL to post a .400 OBP in August while continuing to demonstrate excellent plate discipline. Merely departing PETCO for Fenway will result in plenty of improvement for the veteran. I do not foresee a significant power rebound, but an average over Loretta's .301 career mark seems a virtual certainty as he solidifies the top-of-the-order for the Red Sox with an OBP near .400.

Second Base Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Well over half the second basemen discussed today battled injuries throughout much of the 2005 season. Only Biggio, Grudzielanek, Counsell, and Gonzalez completely avoided joining the walking wounded, and the three elder veterans all appear primed for downswings to various extents. Gonzalez offers the most upside thanks to Coors, but Luis Castillo and Todd Walker possess the skills necessary to explode if healthy and playing every day. Both look like good targets in most leagues, and then you should not forget about Antonio Perez when looking to fill your MIF slot in the endgame.

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