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NL Outfielders: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

National 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.  Alfonso SorianoWAS NationalsAge: 28B:R   T:R

Few projections look worse than Soriano's 2006 for us. I never expected the lure of free agency would provide the proper motivation for Soriano to defy both the league and park switches to post the best season of his career. Of course, the fact that even reaching 40-40 as a leadoff man couldn't bring him to $40 illustrates the risk involved with owning him following the signing of his $136M, eight-year deal with the Cubs. He still lacks the OBP desired from a leadoff hitter, appears unlikely to reach either forty homers or steals in Chicago, and might face the added injury risk of playing centerfield if Felix Pie doesn't earn the job. I see little reason to risk bid more than $30 for Soriano in most leagues since even he just won't find the RBI opportunities he needs to take full advantage of his power potential.

2.  Juan PierreCH CubsAge: 29B:L   T:L

Pierre landed perhaps the winter's most impressive deal considering he never qualified as particularly valuable even during his best seasons. The Dodgers gave him $45M for the next five years despite the fact that Rafael Furcal already occupies their leadoff slot, though given Pierre's complete lack of power, Furcal appears the clear choice to hit second. Los Angeles actually appears a decent fit for Pierre, and while he won't help them toward the playoffs considering the vast drop-off from Matt Kemp's promise, he remains an excellent roto target as long as he avoids the DL. Of course, sim owners only should employ Pierre as more than a defensive replacement if they want to finish last, but in any quantitatively-focused format, feel free to bid toward $40 if you want to grab Pierre's sixty steals and then spend the rest of your offensive budget on power.

3.  Matt HollidayCOL RockiesAge: 26B:R   T:R

A full-time job prompted a truly impressive season from Holliday, who clearly supplanted Todd Helton as the Rockies' top offensive force. Despite questionable patience and declining speed, his power potential as the Colorado's new cleanup hitter justifies $30+ bids in every league. Of course, I expect that Holliday may cost $40 in some leagues, which appears out of his range, but he otherwise qualifies as a first-round, five-tool talent certain to rack the .300/30/100 trifecta you need from your core power hitters.

4.  Carlos LeeMIL/TEXAge: 30B:R   T:R

Few free agents landed in better situations than Lee, who should spend the next several years batting behind one of the best hitters in the game in Lance Berkman. Lee's homer stroke also appears made for Minute Maid, so while I expect a mild downturn in the first half courtesy of the euphoria from his six-year, $100M deal, I also anticipate a second-half charge that will earn Lee MVP consideration if the Astros find one more starter. Bid to $30 with confidence as long as you're willing to suffer through some early difficulties without panicking.

5.  Bobby AbreuPHI/NYYAge: 32B:L   T:R

Discard by Pat Gillick for some shiny baubles while twenty-eight other general managers exhibited more short-sightedness than Quincy Magoo during a solar eclipse. Both Abreu's $15M 2007 salary and $16M 2008 option appear gigantic bargains in a market where Carlos Lee costs more annually despite a career OBP seventy-two points below Abreu's mark. The departure of Gary Sheffield clears the #3 hole for Abreu, who fits perfectly between table-setters Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter and base-clearers Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi. Joe Torre will let Abreu run at will, and since I expect Abreu's AL power surge to continue, don't be surprised if he rejoins the 30-30 club. Consider him a lock to return about $30 with a chance for another $10 if he remains comfortable in New York. Even a potential move to first base shouldn't prevent this professional hitter from another excellent season at the plate.

6.  Dave RobertsSD PadresAge: 34B:L   T:L

The Padres wisely allowed Roberts to move up the coast to the Giants, who gave the soon-to-be 35-year-old leadoff man $18M over three years. Slagathor missed time with a bruised knee in June after running into the outfield fence, doesn't belong in the lineup against southpaws, and considering he never exceeded 422 at-bats until 2006, appears at severe risk of losing a month or more on the DL. Nothing here suggests he can improve upon this career year, and with only healthy legs keeping him above single-digit value, Roberts doesn't deserve much more than $20 in most leagues.

7.  Carlos BeltranNYNAge: 29B:S   T:R

Clearly more comfortable in a clubhouse featuring media darlings Paul Lo Duca and Carlos Delgado, as well as rising stars David Wright and Jose Reyes, a relaxed Beltran rediscovered his power swing and patience, anchoring the Mets' offensive resurgence. Of course, while he remains an effective basestealer, he no longer appears a force on the basepaths, partly due to a succession of nagging injuries though mostly because of his primary role as run-producer. The biggest problem Beltran faces is that continued contact problems leave him well shy of a .300 average, so unless his overall plate discipline improves, he may never improve on this career year. You can bid to $30 with impunity for these skills but also recognize that barring a BA surge, $30 also looks like Beltran's fantasy ceiling.

8.  Jason BayPIT PiratesAge: 28B:R   T:R

Knee problems cut Bay's speed, though if the arthroscopic surgery he required in December alleviated his irritation, Bay could post a career year. Jim Tracy appears determined to bat Bay behind Freddy Sanchez and Adam LaRoche, which actually should increase his RBI opportunities compared to a lineup slot after Chris Duffy and Jack Wilson. I expect Bay's contact rate to rebound while he remains over a hundred walks, and frankly anything less than $30 from the All-Star would shock me. I consider him a solid first round pick in any NL league, possibly worth bids as high as $35 in standard auctions.

9.  Kenny LoftonLA DodgersAge: 39B:L   T:L

Still one of baseball's best leadoff men despite his upcoming fortieth birthday in May, Lofton landed a one-year deal with the Rangers that fills the club's biggest offensive hole while allowing Freddy Guzman another summer to develop in the minors. Of course, Lofton probably won't bat another 469 times given his struggles against southpaws, likely ceding those plate appearances to Marlon Byrd. He also appears at risk to see his steals slip toward merely two-dozen despite returning to leadoff after a season batting behind Rafael Furcal. However, with perfectly solid plate discipline and a lineup slot ahead of Frank Catalanotto, Mike Young, and Mark Teixeira, Lofton should remain near $20, potentially even exceeding that value in 5x5 leagues.

10.  Eric ByrnesARI DiamondbacksAge: 30B:R   T:R

If you're looking for the 2007 version of the 2006 Gary Matthews, look no further. Byrnes finished the year hitting cleanup for the Diamondbacks after an excellent rebound from a fairly disastrous 2005 that saw his offense plummet following his departure from Oakland. Now, while he still owns a shallow skill set, his combination of power potential and baserunning ability makes him a superb roto target. The biggest problem here is that the pending free agent certainly will finish the year in a different organization, making him a risky pick in leagues where you lose players dealt to the AL. Perhaps Arizona will give Carlos Gonzalez another full year in the minors, but Scott Hairston needs another shot no later than August, which guarantees that Byrnes will head somewhere like Texas, Oakland, or Philadelphia. Given his past difficulty with an in-season change of address, exercise some caution here, but also recognize that Byrnes could plow toward $30 as one of the highest-risk, highest-upside players in the game.

11.  Mike CameronSD PadresAge: 33B:R   T:R

The 34-year-old enters his walk year set to hit fifth, right behind the Giles brothers and Adrian Gonzalez. Cameron remains quite strikeout-prone, but a high walk rate, intriguing power potential, and solid speed skills all protect his fantasy value from collapsing as he ages. While he offers little real upside at this point, Cameron only needs to avoid injury to hit 20-20, making him a solid buy near $20, especially since he could approach 100 RBI this season.

12.  Ryan FreelCIN RedsAge: 30B:R   T:R

Freel's failure to qualify at second base sharply reduces his usefulness, but since only a superb spring by Chris Denorfia puts Freel at any risk of seeing less 400 at-bats, he remains a respectable tertiary outfield option at any price in the teens. He'll start in either center or right field while hitting leadoff, though he also should see several games at both second and third base during the season. After posting three straight seasons with a BA within three points of .274 and either thirty-six or thirty-seven steals, consider those marks fairly firm targets for Freel. Considering buying him anywhere shy of $20.

13.  Jacque JonesCH CubsAge: 31B:L   T:L

Only one year removed from receiving an inflated three-year contract for $16M, Jones looks like a giant bargain after posting the second best season of his career. Yet despite the potential to field an intriguing outfield alignment of Felix Pie, Matt Murton, and Jones, the Cubs anted for Alfonso Soriano and Cliff Floyd, and if Pie impresses during spring training, Chicago will find a way to deal Jones somewhere like Philadelphia, Toronto, or even the South Side of Chicago. Completing a deal during spring training also makes a lot of sense considering Jones' plate discipline deteriorated, unchanging platoon split, and a 2.27 G-F that prevents him from pushing past thirty homers. I view $20 as a fairly hard ceiling for the veteran and $15 a far more reasonable price target to acquire his 25 homers, 80 RBI, and a BA headed toward .270.

NL Outfielder Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: None of these players qualifies at a likely bargain at their 2006 salaries, and several of them appear virtual locks to cost more than these prices after the publicity accompanying the bountiful winter enjoyed by the free agents listed above. Pending free agents Eric Byrnes and Mike Cameron probably offer the most upside given their comparatively lower profiles, though Byrnes in particular seems risky given the extreme likelihood that he'll finish 2007 with a new team. While we generally advise outlaying significant resources on your offense, don't be afraid to pay the going rate to secure top infielders, eschewing the stud outfielders in favor of grabbing four $15 starters unless the bidding on one of these guys unexpectedly stalls during the early rounds.

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