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AL Second Basemen: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

American League Second Basemen 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.  Brian RobertsBAL OriolesAge: 28B:S   T:R

An off-season of trade rumors haven't culminated in a deal, and now current reports suggest Roberts soon may sign an extension in the Orioles, who really need Roberts thanks to the club's nearly complete lack of middle infield prospects. While the severe elbow injury Roberts suffered at the end of 2005 limited his power in the first half and likely contributed to the drop from his career-high .387 OBP down to his .345 norm, he compensated with higher steal totals before adding nine second-half homers, helping him maintain decent value to both Baltimore and fantasy clubs. I don't foresee a rebound to his 2005 performance any time soon given Roberts' somewhat stagnant skills, but I doubt many owners will complain if he remains around $30, a fair price for someone likely to produce a dozen homers, thirty steals, a hundred runs and an average just of .300.

2.  Robinson CanoNY YankeesAge: 23B:L   T:R

Cano's emergence as a quality starter provides Brian Cashman justification for a return to building through the Yankees' farm system, the single best move for the long-term sanity of New Yorkers seemingly in favor of big-name acquisitions over any acknowledgment that the club signed and developed Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. Of course, while Cano's rather shallow skill set concerns me right now, especially for fantasy owners that overpaid for his cheap contract for 2007, I see tremendous long-term upside here. He now owns a .319 career BA despite lacking plate patience, and his 75 doubles in his first thousand at-bats portend plenty of power potential. Given that he just turned 24 in October, appears assured of starting job in New York for the rest of the decade, and posted a sterling .365/.380/.635 second-half performance while recovering from a torn hamstring, I feel very uncomfortable betting against Cano. Bid into the low $20s without hesitation, particularly in keeper leagues where you should see significant profits in upcoming seasons.

3.  Luis CastilloMIN TwinsAge: 31B:S   T:R

Knee problems bothered Castillo throughout the year, however other than missing a little time in April and September, he posted strong numbers, including his highest steal total since 2002. His problem was that unexpected erosion in his plate discipline led to his worst OBP since 2001, so despite the roto rebound, his declining value to the Twins only will keep him in town until for another year at most, at which point Alexi Casilla should displace the pending free agent. Castillo still seems a better bet than many second-tier speedsters due to his high BA, but while he normally merits bids around $20, exercise plenty of caution in leagues where you lose players dealt to the NL.

4.  Tadahito IguchiCH White SoxAge: 31B:R   T:R

Improved plate discipline nicely augments the skill set of the otherwise extremely consistent Japanese veteran. He stayed in Chicago's #2 hole, and thanks to a combination of a higher OBP and the awesome production from the heart of the order, Iguchi nearly scored a hundred times despite outwardly unimpressive averages. Even though I don't see much upside for the veteran, he once again ranks among the best AL fantasy options at second and should stay at this level through 2007 at the very least. Grabbing him anywhere around $15 seems like a safe investment in any league.

5.  Mark DeRosaTEX RangersAge: 31B:R   T:R

Landing anyone with a decent bat who qualifies at MIF, COR, and OF obviously adds flexibility to your roster, but in departing Texas for a three-year deal as the Cubs' new starting second baseman, DeRosa should lose most of the value that makes him useful anywhere outside of your middle infield. His quantitative success appears almost entirely due to his career-high at-bats total, and if he struggles in 2007, I fully expect Lou Piniella to turn to Ryan Theriot at second base while DeRosa moves into a platoon with Jacque Jones in the outfield. DeRosa only managed a .278/.342/.404 performance against right-handers, and although he clearly belongs in the lineup against all southpaws, the lack of lefties in the NL Central could result in DeRosa only starting 20% of the games against division rivals. Without further skill development not predicted in his stats to date, he appears on the cusp of losing as much as half his value. Bid into double digits at your own risk.

6.  Ian KinslerTEX RangersAge: 24B:R   T:R

Losing well over a hundred at-bats to minor thumb injury in April kept Kinsler from completely excelling in his rookie season. However, his all-around contribution made him surprisingly valuable, especially since he nicely built upon his excellent minor league numbers from 2005. With good speed, solid defense, and both above-average plate discipline and power potential, he could crash past $20 on his way to emerging as one of fantasy baseball's top second baseman, likely approaching $30 in 2008. While BA troubles in the second half slightly temper my short-term expectations, Kinsler, currently bereft of competition from anyone outside of Jerry Hairston and Ramon Vazquez, seems a safe buy anywhere in the teens.

7.  Mark GrudzielanekKC RoyalsAge: 36B:R   T:R

Few decisions confused us more than Dayton Moore's to retain Grudzielanek in a seller's market at the deadline and the subsequent extension awarded the veteran in August. He turns 37 in June, offers little outside of a decent batting average and some doubles' power, and completely blocks players with more upside, specifically Esteban German and the newly-acquired Jeff Keppinger. Letting Buddy Bell slot Grudzielanek's weak .331 OBP second between David DeJesus and potential #3 hitter Alex Gordon also creates an unnecessary hole in a developing offense. More importantly, few players offer less upside for fantasy owners than this guy, who might continue to defy expectations for another season but more likely soon will drop below double-digit value permanently, especially with a groundball surge prepared to neuter his longball power. While a $5 bargain in many drafts when he last to the endgame, Grudzielanek isn't someone to target as anything more than potential MIF filler.

8.  Ty WiggintonTB Devil RaysAge: 28B:R   T:R

Although we missed on Wigginton's playing time, we saw plenty of power potential here prior to 2006 and weren't surprised when he took full advantage of the openings in Tampa's infield. Dave Littlefield's decision to release Wigginton to clear a spot to select Victor Santos in the Rule 5 draft provides Pirates' fans with yet another reason to hate their GM, compounded by a season spent watching Jose Castillos flail at the plate. The biggest problem now facing Wigginton is the cresting wave of prospects prepared to knock him from the lineup. Yes, he currently looks like the Rays' starting first baseman and even a broken hand didn't affect his power last year, but Jorge Cantu's defensive limitations appears likely to push the young slugger to first once Reid Brignac and Evan Longoria join Akinori Iwamura and B.J. Upton in the majors, leaving Wigginton with no place to play. I suspect Tampa will deal Wigginton by the end of July to a contender looking for a top utilityman, so although you shouldn't avoid him outright in most drafts given the lack of second baseman with twenty-homer power, bidding into double digits is a bad idea anywhere you lose players dealt to the NL.

9.  Esteban GermanKC RoyalsAge: 28B:R   T:R

The long-term Rotohelp favorite finally blossomed after landing a bench job with the Royals, establishing his big league bona fides while registering an outstanding .422 OBP. Yet despite a skill set that demands an everyday job and a shot at hitting leadoff, German's defensive shortcomings kept him out of Buddy Bell's lineup and apparently prompted Dayton Moore to sign the inferior Mark Grudzielanek to an extension. Hopefully he'll respond to this obscene lack of respect as a challenge, although with his outstanding plate discipline and speed skills, German only should need a couple hundred at-bats to post double-digit value. Consider him an outstanding endgame MIF pick, likely to contribute a .300 BA and as many as a dozen steals, along with more potential to clear $20 in a starting role than almost than all but a few of the American League's probably starting second basemen.

10.  Jose LopezSEA MarinersAge: 22B:R   T:R

The former stud infield prospect teased owners with two years of mediocre numbers in part-time play before posting an unexpected .280/.316/.454 in the first half last year, along with 9 HR and 58 RBI in 350 AB that placed him among AL leaders at the break. Yet the atrocious plate discipline illustrated by his 6:48 BB:K seemingly sapped his power, leading to a .285/.322/.336 second-half performance, along with a single measly homer, 21 RBI, and another 3:32 BB:K in 253 AB. Like Adrian Beltre, he hit best in the #2 hole but belongs lower in the lineup, and after the additions of Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen, Lopez should open the year hitting eighth. Hopefully the lower-pressure batting slot will allow Lopez to translate his seemingly decent patience into a higher OBP. Thankfully, even if his skills continue to stagnate, remember that he accumulated 1000 big league at-bats before turning 23 in November, so his long-term future remains as bright as anyone on the Mariners. Even if he regresses this summer, Lopez should blossom over the next couple of years, suggesting that keeper-league owners should feel free to push $15.

11.  Adam KennedyLA AngelsAge: 30B:L   T:R

Enjoying a healthy season still didn't allow Kennedy to exceed 480 at-bats, a threshold he hasn't surpassed since originally joining the Angels in 2000. Continuing problems with left-handers largely limited him to platoon duty, which should remain his role on Tony LaRussa's Cardinals following his $10M/3 deal with his original organization. He also rejoins former double play partner David Eckstein both in the middle infield at atop the lineups as Kennedy's .292/.353/.404 performance against right-handers over the past three years fits nicely between David Eckstein and Albert Pujols in LaRussa's normal lineup construction. Kennedy should see a nice boost in his runs scored, and despite the erosion of his power numbers since his 2004 knee surgery, I expect nice overall improvement from him in the new Busch Stadium. Obtaining him for anything much under $15 will look like a steal by season's end, particularly in 5x5 leagues where he could total 90 or more runs in front of Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds, originally acquired by the Cardinals for Kent Bottenfield and Kennedy seven years ago.

12.  Mark LorettaBOS Red SoxAge: 35B:R   T:R

Signing a one-year deal in Houston as the Astros' primary utilityman creates an intriguing opportunity of Loretta despite theoretically competing with Mike Lamb and Chris Burke for excess at-bats. Of course, after he posted the highest at-bats total of his career in concert with his lowest OPS in five years, less playing time should benefit Loretta's overall performance. The move from Fenway to Minute Maid also should yield significantly better stats for the veteran journeyman, who still possesses solid all-around skills and could emerge as a giant bargain due to his seeming status as bench player. Approaching $10 in bidding isn't unreasonable given the high likelihood of a .300 BA in upward of 350 AB, accompanied by at least half a dozen homers and steals.

13.  Placido PolancoDET TigersAge: 30B:R   T:R

Although the veteran infielder spent much of the summer right around his .300 career BA, Polanco' lack of any respectable secondary skill left him little value outside of his batting average. He also missed a little time with hamstring, back, and jaw injuries before separating his shoulder in mid-August, sidelining him until the last week of the season. Given that Polanco announced in mid-September that he wouldn't return, he didn't exactly endear himself to anyone that cut him by hitting .350 in 20 AB, adding a homer and eight RBI to boost his power numbers for the year by nearly twenty percent. Unfortunately, even the addition of Gary Sheffield hasn't prompted Jim Leyland to move Polanco's .329 OBP to the bottom of the lineup, giving him the second baseman a decent chance to retain double-digit fantasy value despite his extremely limited quantitative contribution. He just doesn't merit bids to that level from anyone not desperate for BA stabilization.

Second Base Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Unlike the relatively overrated double-digit AL shortstops, many of the second baseman discussed today offer far more upside on lesser initial investments. Of the thirteen players listed here, only DeRosa, Wigginton, and Grudzielanek look likely to see their fantasy value drop by much more than 10%. Meanwhile Kinsler appears poised to vault into the top tier, Cano and Lopez remain on pace for truly impressive peak seasons by decade's end, and somebody like German could earn you a massive profit if he lasts until dollar days. With Roberts, Castillo, Iguchi, Kennedy, and even Loretta and Polanco also appearing decent values, I suspect most owners will want to plan on using their MIF slot for one of the multitude of second baseman with far more upside over one of the bevy of shortstops that just posted career years in 2006.

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