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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:
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.  Carl CrawfordTB Devil RaysAge: 25B:L   T:L

Few players in baseball currently possess Crawford's upside regarding both his contributions to the Devil Rays and fantasy teams. He improved his OPS for the fourth straight season while boosting his SB total back near 60. With his overall patience at the best level of his career and Crawford now nestled in the #2 hole between comparable five-tool talents Rocco Baldelli and Delmon Young, we should even more growth from him in the coming years. The 25-year-old's development to date demands bids upward of $40 for a player fully capable of blowing past $50 as the most valuable roto commodity available.

2.  Ichiro SuzukiSEA MarinersAge: 32B:L   T:R

Ichiro's impending free agency may frighten Mariners' fans and management, but his production barely budged over the last four years as he remains one of the most consistent statistical contributors in the game. Last summer he seemingly traded some of his power gains for a BA rebound accompanied by his best stolen base total since his American debut in 2001. Now, with the potential for a $100M contract awaiting the 33-year-old international icon from a club like the Giants, Yankees, or even the Mariners, I think biggest change we should see here will involve Ichiro swapping back a few steals for the best power numbers of his career. Of course, he'll still merit bids approaching $40 in every AL league.

3.  Vladimir GuerreroLA AngelsAge: 30B:R   T:R

While I still generally consider Vlad an injury-prone player, he exceeded 600 at-bats once again in 2006 and seems a good bet to top at least 550 AB this year. He also only turns 31 in two weeks, so he certainly has the time to reverse his three-year OPS slide. Unfortunately, despite my belief that he'll enjoy a true career year by the end of the decade, his plate disciplined regressed last summer as his ground-fly rate also headed upward, seemingly leaving $40 as his absolute maximum in 2007 and the $30-35 range the preferred price at which to acquire the perennial MVP candidate.

4.  Jermaine DyeCH White SoxAge: 32B:R   T:R

Apparently Dye only needed the protection provided by two other MVP candidates to post the best stats of his career while nearly driving the White Sox back to the playoffs. The 2005 World Series MVP never slumped until September, likely boosting many fantasy teams to titles on his way to earning somewhere around a 50% profit for his owners. However, despite a walk rate spike, Dye's contact rate headed toward his Oakland norm, and his .99 G-F ranks as his worst mark since departing Kansas City. Perhaps he'll defy these skills trends to post one more superb season in his walk year, but I wouldn't risk much more than $20 for someone with Dye's history of inconsistency.

5.  Vernon WellsTOR Blue JaysAge: 27B:R   T:R

Recipient of one of the most surprising contracts of the off-season, Wells benefited from Toronto's failure to spend significant cash on free agent pitching when J.P. Riccardi instead decided to lock down his best player to a seven-year, $126M extension. However, the backloaded contract really socks the Blue Jays in the next decade, averaging over $21M a season from 2010 through 2014. We love Wells and consider him a solid investment given his impressive all-around skills, but unless the next CBA truly sends salaries through the roof in 2012, Toronto likely will regret this outlay. Fantasy owners should exhibit some hesitance when targeting Wells following the wave of publicity accompanying the negotiations. He backslid in the second half yet again, his plate discipline hasn't budged over the last couple of years, and we don't consider him a good bet to steal double-digit bases this year. While another round of 30 homers and 100 RBI appears likely, most owners should drop from any bidding that heads toward $30.

6.  Corey PattersonBAL OriolesAge: 27B:L   T:R

Along with Vernon Wells, Patterson ranks as our other current favorite player due to our unyielding belief that the Cubs horribly mishandled his nascent career and never provided him the environment he needed to develop into a superstar. Given a fresh start in Baltimore, Patterson reemerged as a strong roto option, and although he appears far removed from the upside suggested by his performance in 2003 and 2004, he could hang near $30 for a few more years. The biggest problem Patterson now faces is the playing time crunch created by the additions of Aubrey Huff and Jay Payton. I suspect that Payton will handle centerfield against most southpaws, so although that should force Patterson's BA upward, he'll lose a few steals in the process.

7.  Grady SizemoreCLE IndiansAge: 24B:L   T:L

Cleveland wisely locked up Sizemore's rights through 2012 at the ridiculously low total cost of less than $32M for seven years at a deal that now looks less than half of Sizemore's real value. He quietly posted some of the best numbers of anyone in the majors last year, while also contributing superb defense and strong speed skills. We may not see his RBI totals increase until Trevor Crowe reaches the majors and pushes Sizemore down in the order, but with an annual at-bat total around 650, Sizemore's current level of production seems a reasonable base for his roto value. Bid to $30 without hesitation, though despite my belief that he'll hit $40 by his peak, some BA erosion appears likely due to increasing contact problems that appear a product of Sizemore's second-half focus on driving the ball further.

8.  Johnny DamonNY YankeesAge: 32B:L   T:L

Trading batting average for a significant slugging boost to .482 might make Damon slightly more valuable in general, but unless the Yankees plan to shift him to the #9 hole, bumping up Jeter, Abreu, and all the power hitters, his .359 OBP isn't a real asset atop the lineup. That potential drop also puts in a slight crimp in his fantasy value, especially since I don't anticipate Damon stealing another two-dozen bases at age 33. Yet with the possibility of thirty homers in his future, a guarantee of no less than about twenty steals, and a BA around his .289 career mark, Damon still warrants bids of $25 or more in almost every league.

9.  Gary Matthews, Jr.TEX RangersAge: 32B:S   T:R

Signed to an insane $50M contract for five years by an Angels' franchise apparently desperate to spend money on someone this winter, Matthews appears almost certain to regress after posting this career year at age 31 in the American League's best hitters' park while exceeding his previous career high in at-bats by 145. Now he heads to one of the league's three best pitchers' parks, batting ahead of OBP-challenged hitters like Orlando Cabrera and Garret Anderson, so anything less than a $10 drop in Matthews' value would shock me. Of course, he isn't a bad player and offers more upside to the Angels than Chone Figgins, and after a winter of contract-mocking by nearly every newspaper in the country, Matthews might just emerge as a surprise bargain in many leagues this spring.

10.  Manny RamirezBOS Red SoxAge: 34B:R   T:R

Theo wisely opted to retain this future Hall of Famer for another couple of years, then possibly mitigated the distraction by adding the ever fan-unfriendly J.D. Drew to provide protection for Manny, seemingly both on and off the field. After a season in which injuries held Ted Williams' heir below 550 AB for the first time since 2002, primarily due to patella tendonitis in his right knee, Manny hopefully will enter camp fully recovered and prepared to resume his place at the center of Boston's offense. He still owns fantastic skills, and despite my seemingly annual forecast of his impending collapse, I see no statistical reason he can't maintain this performance in 2007. Bid to $30, expecting a .310/40/120 season while hoping for a .330/45/150 monster campaign depending on how the top of the order jells.

11.  Alex RiosTOR Blue JaysAge: 25B:R   T:R

Rios turned 25 last February, headed into his third big league season, and busted out all over AL pitchers. He cut his ground-fly rate from 2.42 in 2004 to 1.46 and then .91 last year. More importantly, he returned his plate discipline to 2004 levels after a troublesome 2005 campaign. With plenty of speed, strong defense, and a low-pressure role in the offense, the main obstacle to his continued success remains the staph infection he contracted in his lower left leg at the end of June. While he missed four weeks of action and struggled for the next month, Rios rebounded with a .333/.371/.606 performance in September despite a bruised hand. He likely will return to the #2 hole, and even if he regresses a little, good health and the addition of Frank Thomas to the Jays' loaded heart-of-the-order could push Rios near $30, making him a strong target, particularly in 5x5 leagues where he might add 100 runs to your tally

12.  Raul IbanezSEA MarinersAge: 34B:L   T:R

Simply one of the most cost-efficient veterans in the game, Ibanez continues to earn about a $5 profit for his owners while also providing the Mariners rather excellent production for the $11M total extension he signed last February. That contract probably cost Ibanez at least $20M given the rate that clubs like the Angels and Orioles awarded significant contracts to inferior players. I admit that Ibanez appears quite likely to regress given his falling contact rate and overall plate discipline. He similarly seems ripe for an accompanying quantitative drop after this career year. We'd love to see Seattle platoon Ibanez with Jose Guillen while letting either Adam Jones or Jeremy Reed play every day in center, but with the youth movement still a few month away, Ibanez merits bids almost anywhere in the teens.

13.  Torii HunterMIN TwinsAge: 31B:R   T:R

Hunter posted his best stats in five seasons just in time for the Twins to reach an agreement on a new stadium, thus allowing the club to exercise his $12M option and prevent him from scoring a truly massive payday in free agency. Of course, while he turns 32 in July and appears at plenty of risk for general skill erosion after posting a career-best homer total unaccompanied by an OBP increase, he still ranks as one of the a half-dozen best positions players likely heading into free agency next winter, so I suspect we'll see a respectable follow-up campaign barring further injury. Hunter remains a good investment for anyone willing to seek BA help elsewhere, especially since hitting behind Mauer, Cuddyer, and Morneau should lead to another lofty RBI total. Feel free to bid into the low $20s.

14.  Scott PodsednikCH White SoxAge: 30B:L   T:L

After badly burning us in each of the last two years, Podsednik hopefully will help us remember that few late-developing speedsters remain top fantasy targets well into even their arbitration years. Right now he appears a tremendous risk after reports last week indicated that he aggravated the groin injury that bother him throughout 2006 and may not begin participating in spring training until well into May. Chicago signed Darin Erstad as a possible alternative, though both Erstad and Brian Anderson could win starting jobs, as might Ryan Sweeney, Jerry Owens, Pablo Ozuna, or even Josh Fields or Rob Mackowiak. The presence of multiple viable centerfielders creates plenty of options for Ozzie Guillen, which just might send Podsednik to the bench upon his eventual return. I still want to believe that he could reemerge as an excellent source of steals, and if surgery actually fixed his groin issues, Pods just might provide you with a tremendous bargain considering he shouldn't cost much more than half his 2006 value in early spring drafts. However, between his injury and the playing time concerns, bidding more than about $15 under almost circumstances appears foolishly optimistic and highly questionable allocation.

15.  Magglio OrdonezDET TigersAge: 32B:R   T:R

Ordonez finally enjoyed his first fully healthy seasons since 2003, and his sustained production helped drive the Tigers into the World Series for the first time in more than two decades. While his skills no longer depict the dynamic slugger on display during his White Sox days, Ordonez only turned 33 last week and appears perfectly capable of maintaining this output for a few more years. Adding Gary Sheffield's OBP to the middle of Detroit's lineup probably necessitates a demotion to the #5 hole for Ordonez, but hitting behind Sheffield and Carlos Guillen seemingly insures another impressive RBI total. Grabbing someone with Ordonez's history, respectable skill foundation, and $30 upside seems a good deal for any team looking for a solid second outfielder who only costs about $20.

16.  Reed JohnsonTOR Blue JaysAge: 29B:R   T:R

Seemingly a perfect candidate for a trade to the Twins or Padres for bullpen help, Johnson instead should return to Toronto, resuming his leadoff duties and starting job in left field while allowing Adam Lind to gain a little more seasoning before quite possibly forcing his way into a job-sharing agreement with Johnson by mid-season. I like some of Johnson's skill trends, but I simply don't consider him even a potential bet to repeat at $20. Even spending half that much money on someone with his limited upside seems an unnecessary gamble, so I see no reason not to treat this as an unrepeatable career year, focusing on his mediocre .283/.338/457 second-half performance.

AL Outfielder Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Your best bets here look like Crawford, Ichiro, Damon, Manny, Rios Hunter, and possibly Maggs, so generally plan to grab one of the two top outfielders for about $40 and then slot one of the latter quintet for $20-20 depending on the auction and your other needs. None of the outfielders discussed above appears particularly likely to improve on his 2006 fantasy value in any significant way, which leaves Gary Matthews and Scott Podsednik as the most intriguing players here due the extensive negative press surrounding both players this winter. At least one of them just might emerge as a superb bargain, possibly slipping down near $10 in leagues with plenty of sabermetrically-oriented owners.

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