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AL Shortstops: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

American League Shortstops with Positive Draft Value

Quick Key to the tables:
B = Bats.  T = Throws.  Age = Player's Age as of October 1, 2006.
Proj. = Rotohelp's projected 2006 stats and fantasy values for each player.
2006 = Each player's final 2006 stat line and fantasy values.
AB = At-bats.  H = Hits.  BA = Batting Average.  HR= Home Runs.
RBI = Runs Batted In.  SB = Stolen Bases.  R = Runs.
Pos = Position qualification based on 20 appearances or max. # of games in 2006.
4x4 = BA, HR, RBI, and SB in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters.
5x5 = BA, HR, RBI, SB, and R in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters.
RAR = Runs Above Replacement; aRAR = RAR adjusted to
consider a player's 2006 defensive rating in Scoresheet fantasy baseball.

We ranked players by position 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 all players in the league where they began the season.

1.  Derek JeterNY YankeesAge: 32B:R   T:R

Generally players do not suddenly post a career-high steal total at age 32, especially in the twelfth season of a Hall of Fame career. Yet Jeter exceeded 30 steals for the first time since 2002 while posting his best BA, OBP, and SLG marks since 1999, which should have earned him the AL MVP over Johan Santana and Joe Mauer, the only other two credible challengers. His homers dropped as a result of a career-worst 3.23 G-F, but he clearly owns ideal skills for any #2 hitter, especially one batting between Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu. We've considered Jeter largely undervalued for the last few years, though after leading the AL in roto value on the strength of his outstanding BA, a significant letdown seems certain. Bidding past $30 in standard leagues will leave you little hope of seeing a real profit on an otherwise remarkably consistent performer.

2.  Miguel TejadaBAL OriolesAge: 30B:R   T:R

Tejada thankfully compensated for his reduced power numbers with a career-best BA, but he seems quite likely to slide down to the $25 range given both his skill trends and the aging Orioles' lineup. At least he avoided a second-half slump, though nothing here suggests that he won't remain among the most overrated AL stars. Tejada's one real hope for improvement rests in a reversal of his career-worst 1.97 G-F, coupled with additional RBI opportunities stemming from his shift to the cleanup hole behind new #3 hitter Nick Markakis. Rather than hoping for the absolute best when spending during your draft, let someone else gamble their $30 in hope for another .300-30-125 performance while you seek quantitative help from less famous players.

3.  Carlos GuillenDET TigersAge: 31B:S   T:R

The Tigers' unheralded MVP, Guillen avoided the DL all year yet still missed plenty of time with various discomfort. Of course, when healthy he enjoyed his second career year in three seasons, this time adding a career-high steal total to an excellent BA and solid power numbers. He qualifies as a five-category threat, and with Sean Casey re-signing, Guillen's inevitable move to first base appears at least another year away. My biggest concern here is an emerging pattern wherein Guillen appear extremely vulnerable to injury following his All-Star campaigns, a problem likely exacerbated by the 47 additional at-bats he received in the post-season. Bidding much past $20 looks like an unnecessary risk to me unless Guillen appears fully healthy during spring training without a single report of hamstring, knee, or any other health issues.

4.  Mike YoungTEX RangersAge: 29B:R   T:R

Aside from some general deterioration of Young's plate discipline, his career-worst 1.72 G-F emerged as the biggest obstacle to his continued growth as a hitter. He no longer owns particularly impressive speed, and although a .300 BA appears a foregone conclusion, a return to twenty homers isn't assured. The good news is that 2006 looks like a mild downturn before a rebound to an .850 OPS or better, so if you want to lock down a high BA in your middle infield, feel free to bid Young right to $30.

5.  Orlando CabreraLA AngelsAge: 31B:R   T:R

Improved plate discipline led to welcome improvement from Cabrera, who boosted his average twenty-five points while posting career-best marks of a 3.62 #P/PA and a .92 G-F. His increasing uppercut resulted in 45 doubles, and given Cabrera's overall development, I anticipate a mild power surge from the veteran in 2007. A likely rebound against southpaws similarly will boos his averages, so while he still isn't a good fit in the #2 hole for the Angels and never should hit third, Cabrera offers plenty of roto upside for anyone grabbing him under $25.

6.  Julio LugoTB/LADAge: 30B:R   T:R

Two seasons after signing Edgar Renteria to a $32M/4 deal and a year after dismissing Renteria to Atlanta in favor of Alex Gonzalez's defense, the Red Sox inked Julio Lugo to a $36M/4 contract after perhaps the best all-around campaign of his career. Yes, he badly struggled in an unfamiliar role on the Dodgers, but cast as Boston's unquestioned starting shortstop and likely leadoff man, he appears set to flourish in 2007, especially given his overall skill trends and power growth. Lugo appears particularly valuable in 5x5 leagues since he almost certainly will crash over 100 runs for the first time, and although general concerns regarding his stolen base opportunities prevent me from unilaterally recommending him, he shouldn't hurt you for about $25.

7.  Nick PuntoMIN TwinsAge: 29B:S   T:R

Minnesota's fascination with Juan Castro led me to a remarkably pessimistic projection for Punto, who always owned decent plate discipline and apparently just need an unquestioned starting job to blossom. Yes, he lacks the power expected of a third baseman, but his solid OBP remains a decent fit in a Twins' lineup that traditionally leans toward power over on-base skills. Punto unfortunately could slip to the #9 hole if Jason Bartlett and Luis Castillo perform as hoped, and since 2006 gives us a good idea of his upside, most fantasy owners have little margin for error here. The addition of Jeff Cirillo also could cut into his playing time even though both Cirillo and Punto perform better against left-handers. Only try to grab Punto for your MIF hole if bidding stalls under $10.

8.  Yuniesky BetancourtSEA MarinersAge: 24B:R   T:R

One of the youngest everyday shortstop in the majors, Betancourt enjoyed a fairly solid sophomore campaign after shooting to the majors the previous year in one summer as a Cuban defector. An excellent .90 contact rate should keep his BA at a helpful level, and although no power or SB surge seems imminent, Betancourt remains someone to watch as he approaches his prime. Consider him a solid keeper under $10 and a decent gamble in the very low double digits.

9.  Jason BartlettMIN TwinsAge: 26B:R   T:R

The spring training decision to demote Bartlett in favor of Juan Castro alone should have cost Ron Gardenhire any consideration for Manager of the Year. Thankfully for the Twins, Bartlett didn't sulk at AAA Rochester, registering a respectable .306/.336/.443 performance with a 10:28 BB:K and a 6/9 SB% in 235 AB despite dealing with hamstring issues. He emerged as a key factor in Minnesota's resurgence following his June promotion, and while he remained stuck at the bottom of the lineup, he easily should match this output in 2007. A higher steal total should compensate for any BA deterioration, so although no breakout appears forthcoming, feel free to roster Bartlett anywhere under $15.

10.  Aaron HillTOR Blue JaysAge: 24B:R   T:R

Virtually certain to spend 2007 at second base following the addition of Royce Clayton to cover shortstop with John McDonald and possibly Russ Adams, Hill should continue improving in his second full season in the majors. Improved overall plate discipline provides a solid base for future development, especially considering he only turns 25 in March. The biggest problem here is that Hill lacks significant quantitative upside, and given his development curve, we won't see a true breakout until 2008. Only bid into double digits with the intention of retaining Hill as your long-term second baseman for the next couple of summers.

11.  Alex CintronCH White SoxAge: 27B:S   T:R

Stolen from the Diamondbacks in the spring for Jeff Bajenaru, Cintron reemerged as a solid reserve, particularly providing a needed boost during Juan Uribe's extended slump. However, Uribe remains a superior fielder who owns the heftier contract and appears poised for a rebound. Cintron meanwhile could lose playing time to Rob Mackowiak and Pablo Ozuna in addition to a resurgent Uribe. Lacking overly impressive power or speed and no longer possessing any plate discipline of note, Cintron appears far removed from his 2003 breakout, and unless he manages to secure a platoon job with Uribe, he'll struggle to return to double-digit value in 2007. Barring an announced role change for Cintron prior to your draft, bidding much past $5 drastically reduces your change of seeing much profit from the middle infielder next summer.

Shortstop Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: The majority of AL starting shortstops either appear at the peak of their value right now or remain a season or two short of their primes. Even Mike Young, the most likely to improve of today's players, won't be undervalued in many leagues due to his fantasy history of $30 performances. Unless you can grab one of the top shortstops for about $25 or manage to land one of the second tier near $10, targeting rebound candidates in tomorrow's column like Jhonny Peralta and even the rarely healthy Bobby Crosby makes much more sense in the majority of leagues.

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