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NL Shortstops: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

National 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.  Jose ReyesNYNAge: 23B:S   T:R

I expected that much of Reyes' value would stem from his health, but not only did he avoid even a minor tweak of his hamstring, he also rediscovered the plate discipline he lost upon reaching the majors. He more than doubled his walk rate from 2005, and that improved patience translated into across-the-board improvement. Considering he'll reach 2000 career at-bats before turning 24 in June and owns a remarkably broad skill base, Reyes possesses more upside than any middle infielder in the game. Of course, he likely won't outdistance every NL batter by $10 again, and a fall toward $40 also appears probable, yet even a 20% decrease in his value still will warrant selecting him as a first round pick in every standard league. Auction drafters should feel free to push past $40 if you want to secure 50 steals and plenty of power potential.

2.  Hanley RamirezFLO MarlinsAge: 22B:R   T:R

Easily my worst projection of the year, Ramirez fulfilled the expectations of every scout's tout from the past five years in registering one of the best all-around rookie seasons ever. He essentially matched Jose Reyes' overall production despite receiving less support from his teammates than the Mets' lineup of MVP contenders offered his fellow shortstop. Ramirez's 4.00 #P/PA in particular indicates surprisingly good patience for someone who didn't turn 23 until last month. He looked like an All-Star in every month save June, and despite some serious concern about a potential sophomore slump, I can't find any rationale for forecasting more than a mild downturn. Cruise past $35 without hesitation, even pushing $40 if Reyes previously exited the board and you want plenty of steals in your infield.

3.  Rafael FurcalLA DodgersAge: 28B:S   T:R

Accepting a three-year deal from the Dodgers suddenly looks very wise for Furcal, who unexpectedly justified his contract with a performance that earned some MVP consideration. Even if he regresses a little this summer, he should rebound in time to take full advantage of the free agent market after 2008. Of course, I also see a few reasons for short-term concern, beginning with his likely shift to the #2 hole to take advantage of his power and allow the punchless Juan Pierre to bat in his natural position. Pierre probably will clog the bases for Furcal, which should lead to a regression toward the shortstop's less fantasy-friendly performances from earlier this decade. A sharp rise to a 1.80 G-F also indicates minimal potential for power growth, so I see no rationale for remaining in any bidding that heads past $30.

4.  Jimmy RollinsPHI PhilliesAge: 27B:S   T:R

Rollins rode the surge produced by the bats of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to perhaps the best all-around year of his career. While he slumped in the first half upon breaking his hitting streak from the end of 2005, his second-half power boost led to excellent final stats. Yes, he also regressed to his pre-2004 BA level due to increased contact problems, however with his overall patience clearly improving by year's end, I see plenty of potential for a strong follow-up. Consider Rollins a bargain anywhere around $25.

5.  Felipe LopezCIN/WASAge: 26B:S   T:R

Departing Cincy for DC in the year's most senseless trade understandably cost Lopez most of his power. Jim Bowden's decision to deal Jose Vidro also shifts Lopez to second base to clear room for Cristian Guzman at shortstop, so he'll have to adjust to a new position while remaining one of the only established offensive threats in the lineup. Fortunately Lopez remains a relatively disciplined hitter with solid speed skills, so I don't expect a complete meltdown. I just also can't recommend him after his 2006 steal total exceeded his previous career total. Bidding past $20 qualifies as a definite gamble in any league.

6.  Freddy SanchezPIT PiratesAge: 28B:R   T:R

Freddy Sanchez's batting title ranks as the most unlikely batting crown in no less than a generation since even Bill Mueller owned an excellent skill set prior to his 2003 title and didn't face much competition as his .326 mark ranked as the lowest BA to lead the AL since 1972. However, the key to remember here is that Sanchez's skills barely budged from his 2005 marks, making his somewhat mediocre .329/.359/.423 second-half performance far more demonstrative of his true skill level. His 1.14 G-F and .91 contact rate also didn't translate into anything more than a league-leading fifty-three doubles, extra bases that don't translate into roto value in the vast majority of leagues. While I consider Sanchez an extremely useful player right now due to his position flexibility, the acknowledgement that nearly three-quarters of his worth stems from his batting average means that he could drop all the way down to single digits if he suffers any extended string of bad luck. With Tony Gwynn no longer available, you really don't want to bid into the teens for anyone whose batting average comprises the vast majority of his fantasy value, so let someone else take the risk of owning this quantitative cipher this year.

7.  Omar VizquelSF GiantsAge: 39B:S   T:R

Somehow the 39-year-old veteran posted his best performance of the decade last year, but with his fortieth birthday approaching in April, I just can't predict anything close to a repeat of these numbers. Vizquel's .287/.337/.381 second-half output appears far more in line with what I expect from him this summer, and although he may steal another twenty bases, a drop into single digits wouldn't surprise me at all. Consider him a bargain anywhere below $10 and otherwise let someone else take the risk given the plethora of shortstops with far more upside readily available in NL leagues.

8.  Edgar RenteriaATL BravesAge: 31B:R   T:R

Returning to the National League resulted in an expected rebound for Renteria, who saw improvement in his walk and contact rates translate to more power, more opportunities to steal, and his best averages since 2003. However, he also slumped after the break, and although I anticipate his power continue to increase over the next few years, a mild downturn toward his career norms seems the most likely scenario for the eleven-year veteran in 2007. Bidding into the high teens will sharply reduce your shot at seeing any profit on your investment.

9.  Bill HallMIL BrewersAge: 26B:R   T:R

Rather than attempt a logical solution to the problem of possessing a cadre of interesting young outfielders, a top third base prospect widely rumored to require a move to the outfield, and the unexpected development of an undisciplined utilityman into a power stud, the Brewers traded for Corey Koskie last winter. While Hall proved his mettle subbing for J.J. Hardy once again last summer, he instead faces a move to the outfield as Milwaukee insists on keeping both Koskie and Ryan Braun at third base. Finally, despite possessing the capability to cover center, an emerging black hole due to Brady Clark's regression, the trade of Dave Krynzel, and Anthony Gwynn's inconsistent development, Hall appears headed for left field, leaving Corey Hart the favorite to start in right field over Geoff Jenkins, Kevin Mench, Gabe Gross, and Laynce Nix. Of course, with Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino apparently set to back-up Koskie, Hardy, and Rickie Weeks, Hall's shift to the outfield makes a little sense, but the net result is a significant long-term reduction in his fantasy utility, accompanied by additional short-term upside as Hall can stop worrying about bringing a half-dozen gloves to every game and finally just focus on his hitting. Hopefully he at least will settle into the cleanup slot, so I expect Hall to push back over $20 as he exceeds 100 RBI for the first time, particularly if his contact rate rebounds in concert with his overall improvement in plate discipline.

10.  Rich AuriliaCIN RedsAge: 35B:R   T:R

Recipient of a two-year deal from San Francisco after a couple of impressive seasons in Cincinnati, Aurilia returns to his home from the first nine seasons of his career. Of course, instead of holding down shortstop, he appears set to start at first base, batting sixth behind Bonds and Durham. On the other hand, Ryan Klesko likely signed with the Giants in part to rejoin Bruce Bochy and also because of a perceived vacancy at first. I fully expect Aurilia to settle into a utility role, starting at first base against left-handers and otherwise spelling the Giants' aging middle infielders and the woeful Pedro Feliz at third. Despite the seeming opportunity for him to enjoy a full-time role, the anticipated loss of power from his move away from the GAB could result in long stints on the bench. Bidding into double digits for Aurilia is a bad gamble, especially for teams already full at MIF.

11.  David EcksteinSTL CardinalsAge: 31B:R   T:R

The signing of Adam Kennedy to bat between Eckstein and Albert Pujols should allow the 2006 World Series MVP to enjoy a nice little rebound if he avoids aggravating his strained oblique. While a little BA regression appears likely, improved walk, steal, and RBI totals appear virtually certain given his established skill level. Unfortunately, Eckstein's rather limited overall upside leads me to recommend looking elsewhere for your shortstop, but if bidding somehow stalls short of $10, he won't hurt you at that price, particularly in 5x5 leagues.

Shortstop Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Shortstop suddenly looks like a loaded position in NL leagues with as much top-tier talent as any infield position. However, practically everyone discussed today appears likely to lose value in 2007, and unless you're willing to spend the $30-40 necessary for one of the quartet of speedsters atop this ranking, you probably want to gamble on a youngster like Stephen Drew, Troy Tulowitzki, or even J.J. Hardy. Perhaps someone like Bill Hall will emerge as a bargain in leagues that don't feature a half-dozen Brewers' fans, but generally you either should open your wallet to secure a multi-category stud here or else prospect for a true bargain in the latter half of your draft, perhaps even looking toward Alberto Callaspo as a low-risk, high-upside pick.

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