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AL Outfielders: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

American League Outfielders 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.

Carl Crawford644194.301158146101O
TB Devil Rays4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 24B:L    T:L444130.138.6

Much of Crawford's 2006 value rests on his lineup slot, and although he could hit leadoff, his unimpressive OBP and overall skill trends require a permanent move lower in the order. His ground-fly rate fell to 1.23, giving him twenty-homer potential this summer, yet a lower walk rate limits his overall effectiveness. Of course, he remains among the game's fastest players and earns about $20 based on steals alone. That speed helps keep his BA at a very useful level, and with his power also developing, I see no justification for expecting anything less than a $40 season here. While some season a slew of owners will lose $15 or more on their Crawford investment once he truly focuses on producing runs as he naturally slows, 24 seems far too young an age for that transition. Bank on nothing worse than a .290/15/75/40 line with an upside well over $50.

Ichiro Suzuki679206.303156833111O
SEA Mariners4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 31B:L    T:R383728.828.8

Very rarely do you see a top five fantasy player consistently underrated, but despite Ichiro's dependable baseline of $35 and $50 upside, I doubt he regularly receives the $40+ bids he deserves in most leagues. On top of his $15 of BA and $15 of steals, he added another eight bucks of power as his ground-fly dropped back to 2.06, an objectively weak mark yet certainly acceptable given his other skills. While overrated by the media due to his little-ball focus, his overall contribution, particularly to roto owners eager for the game's best BA/SB foundation, secures Ichiro's place in the first round of any draft.

Scott Podsednik507147.2900255980O
CH White Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29B:L    T:L38352.915.7

Although he still finished among the most valuable players in the majors, Podsednik clearly did not match our expectations of more than 75 steals and roughly $50 in 4x4 leagues. However, he tracked right on target for those numbers, compiling 52 stolen bases through the first four months before groin problems sent him to the DL for a month. He stole only seven bases over the balance of the season, leaving him as merely very valuable rather than the most valuable player in fantasy baseball. Podsednik exchanged strikeouts and homers for batting average, which truly moved him to two-category status similar to Alex Sanchez, yet I still believe he could post one more dynamic season if he does not suffer further injuries. Feel free to bid to $40 in standard leagues, pressing even higher if inflation boosts the relative value of his steals.

Vladimir Guerrero520165.317321081395O
LA Angels4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29B:R    T:R353359.256.1

Vlad enters his eleventh big league season this spring following his thirtieth birthday next week. He remains royally impatient at the plate while still compiling a 61:48 BB:K that indicates very impressive overall batting discipline. With his speed skills and overall power production intact, Guerrero seems set to anchor the Angels' lineup indefinitely, providing the necessary offensive foundation to offset the growing pains of future stars Casey Kotchman, Howie Kendrick, and Brandon Wood. The key to analyzing Vlad is realizing that you never can expect him to stay healthy all season. Plan for two weeks on the DL and therefore limit your bids with the expectation of merely 500-550 AB rather than the 600 at-bats that automatically elevate him into primary MVP contention. Acquiring him for anything less than $35 qualifies as a good deal.

Johnny Damon624197.316107518117O
BOS Red Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 31B:L    T:L323235.447.2

The production of Johnny Damon Superstar heads down the coast for a four-year run at Yankee Stadium, or more likely, a three-year run and a year of complaints about how his sub-par fielding hurts New York pitchers. Of course, the iconic Bostonian-for-life at least should remain quite productive at the plate this year with three Hall of Famers likely following him in the lineup. We even could see a power surge in his comfy new park. However, with his age increasing and patience decreasing, exercise some caution in shopping for Damon. While he offers decent value at $29 and even $30 flat, pushing above that level invites an uncomfortable amount of risk onto your roster.

Randy Winn617189.30620631985O
Age: 31B:S    T:R323037.545.9

A perfectly mediocre career launched into high gear upon Winn's trade to the Giants for Jesse Foppert and Yorvit Torrealba. He exploded in San Francisco, compiling a .359/.391/.680 performance with 14 HR, 26 RBI, and an 11:38 BB:K in only 231 AB. I admit his skills do not support the ability even to echo those numbers, but Winn heads into camp penciled into the most enviable lineup spot in the game: the Giants #3 hitter, immediately preceding Barry Bonds. Although his steals could drop to single digits, a .900 OPS suddenly seems reasonable considering his overall power growth and the discipline other Giants tend to gain when playing with Bonds. Of course, Winn's loss of speed could cost him more roto value than his other improvement nets, so keep your bids under $25 to insure a profit.

Grady Sizemore640185.289228122111O
CLE Indians4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23B:L    T:L303030.740.9

Juan Gonzalez's spring injury essentially propelled the Indians into contention a year ahead of schedule by pushing Sizemore into the majors as the catalyst for the entire lineup. Although he probably belongs in the #3 hole, Sizemore's above-average speed makes him the de facto leadoff man on a club loaded with potential #3 and #6 hitters. He owns promising patience, plenty of power potential, and the defensive skills to cut Cleveland's ERA for the foreseeable future. Welcome improvement down the stretch indicates that Sizemore could hold near $30 indefinitely, likely providing savvy owners with a good bargain anywhere around $25.

Gary Sheffield584170.2913412310104OD
NY Yankees4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 36B:R    T:R302946.139.8

The glacial erosion of this Hall of Famer's skills insures he will enjoy one more major payday when his contract with the Yankees expires next fall. Sheffield will hit his 500th home run in 2007, and given his overall skill set, he just might make it to 650 HR and 2000 RBI if he re-ups for another three-year New York tour. While we saw the first real downturn in his patience in over a decade, Sheffield's established level of performance remains so high that he can contribute $20 and 30 VORP with no effort whatsoever. Of course, he will not surpass his career-high at-bat total this summer, so some quantitative deterioration appears inevitable. Only risk-takers should bother with any bidding past $25.

Manny Ramirez554162.292451441112O
BOS Red Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33B:R    T:R292962.640.6

Turning 34 should not pose any challenge for Manny, who dipped below a 1.000 OPS for the first time since 1998 by a mere eighteen points due to his third straight BA drop. Unfortunately, a decrease in roto value seems certain since his 45 HR and 144 RBI both rank as his best marks since joining Boston. I do not view Manny as a $30 player, however due to the tremendous quantitative foundation he provides, bidding that much might make sense depending upon the overall composition of your team. Remember that despite the headaches he causes Boston management, his annual production still looks quite consistent over the past five years. The only real downside here is that Scoresheet owners simply must keep him at DH due to his incredibly detrimental effect on your overall defense

Hideki Matsui629192.305231162108O
NY Yankees4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 31B:L    T:R272843.732.3

Awarding both Damon and Matsui virtually identical four-year deals worth $52M provides impressive stability for the Yankees' outfield, especially considering that Matsui's skills almost appear closer to Damon's than to those of Gary Sheffield. While he obviously lacks speed, Matsui also has not yet replicated his gigantic Japanese power numbers. Although he continues to up his extra-base total annually and I see plenty of indicators suggesting a breakout this summer, we also do not know if a likely drop to the #6 hole will depress his performance. Bid to $25 for a .300/25/100 season and be very happy if Matsui exceeds those benchmarks while continuing his three-year consecutive game streak. Leagues where he costs about $30 merely require an additional ante as a down payment on his impressive durability.

Coco Crisp594178.30016691586O
CLE Indians4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:S    T:R272628.231.3

A sprained thumb sustained in a foolish slide into third base cost Crisp a couple weeks, keeping him under 600 AB, but he otherwise experienced a respectable year of skill consolidation that augers well for a breakout following his twenty-sixth birthday in November. While his move to Boston returns him to the top of the batting order, a role he historically finds uncomfortable, simply changing home parks will boost his production significantly, likely offsetting any continued discomfort. Consider locking down Crisp in keeper leagues if you can nab him anywhere shy of $30.

Jermaine Dye529145.27431861174O
CH White Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 31B:R    T:R222125.318.6

The World Series MVP returns to the #5 hole behind Paul Konerko at cleanup and likely Juan Uribe and Jim Thome higher in the order. Significant improvement in Dye's contact rate gives him the potential to head back toward .300, and given his power skills, a 40/120 season does not look impossible. Of course, I instead expect something nearer a .290/35/100 but still an excellent year by almost any standards. I doubt he will cost much over $20 anywhere outside of Chicagoland while returning as much as a 50% profit.

Emil Brown545156.28617861075O
KC Royals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30B:R    T:R212123.923.9

Easily the most unlikely candidate to join this group of players, Brown barely snagged the last spot on the Royals' bench with an impressive camp. The former Pirate prospect nearly exceeded his combined AAA at-bat total from the previous two seasons as he quickly emerged as the second most reliable player on a destitute team. Brown demonstrated very solid all-around skills, contributing about $5 of value in every category. Unfortunately, a persistent platoon split may force him into the short end of a platoon with Matt Stairs, but given the relative fragileness of everyone in Kansas City's OF/DH mix, expecting anything less than 400 at-bats from Brown seems foolish. Talk up his uncertain role and then try to land him in single digits.

Raul Ibanez614172.2802089992OD
SEA Mariners4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33B:L    T:R212123.323.3

Ibanez landed in the #3 hole on the Mariners due to their lack of viable alternatives. He seems set to return to that role this year despite the increased pressure of his shift from DH to left field to accommodate Carl Everett. The stat that really jumps out here is that Ibanez's ground-fly rate increased ever so slightly for the fifth straight season, lodging at a still respectable 1.27 mark, which combines with his sudden proliferation of patience at the plate to give him fairly decent overall value. His age and relative lack of power cause obvious concern, but nothing here indicates any likelihood of a sudden collapse. Target Ibanez's consistent production if bidding stalls in the mid-teens.

Vernon Wells620167.2692897878O
TOR Blue Jays4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26B:R    T:R202018.731.1

A previously worrisome platoon split reached unacceptable levels as Wells dropped below a .700 OPS against right-handed pitchers. However, he barely turned 27 two months ago, still owns the skill history from his 2003 breakout, and now returns to a team loaded with expensive new acquisitions and the additional protection provided by Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay. Expecting anything short of a significant rebound here seems rather foolish, so eagerly snap up Wells anywhere in the low $20s. Even a $35 season will not shock me, but barring necessary improvement in his contact rate, Wells appears a couple years short of attaining superstar status.

Torii Hunter372100.26914562363O
MIN Twins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30B:R    T:R201911.521

Anchoring a lineup of developing youngsters and batting behind two excellent OBP sources in Luis Castillo and Joe Mauer, Hunter appears on track for Comeback Player of the Year and quite likely MVP consideration if the Twins rebound as expected. His 2005 campaign ended abruptly after four months courtesy of a broken ankle, but since he already appears healthy and demonstrated nice skill development prior to the injury, he could breeze to $30 this summer. Any such performance from the pending free agent may convince the Twins to exercise their $12M option on Hunter rather than risk losing the face of the franchise and creating a significant hole in both the batting order and outfield.

AL Outfield Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Although I expect Ichiro and Podsednik to remain the top bargains anywhere you can land either player around $35, Crisp, Wells, and especially Hunter look prepared for nice increases in value. Targeting one member of that trio and someone from the group of Matsui, Dye, or Ibanez for a total cost around $40 could provide an excellent foundation for your outfield.

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