Group 3: (Can He Do It Again?)
Jason Bartlett (SS, TB) – By his fourth year in the league, Bartlett had matured into a defensive-minded shortstop that was good for a bushel of steals per year. In his sixth season, Bartlett shocked the baseball world with 14 homers, 90 runs scored, 30 steals, and a .320 average. If this is Bartlett’s new skill set from this point forward, the 30 year-old should be a good all-around shortstop who can put up Jeter-esque numbers without costing you a Jeter-esque fifth round pick.
Heath Bell (RP, SD) – Bell made a seamless transition to stud closer after Trevor Hoffman left for Milwaukee. Although Bell had Hall of Fame shoes to fill, he stepped up to lead the National League with 42 saves. While he would stand to get even more save opportunities by pitching for a better team, the penny-pinching Padres could already be shopping the 32 year-old, as well as anyone else on the team attracting interest, for anything younger and cheaper…okay, Padre rant aside, Bell is a very reliable closer, but presents risk if he’s traded to a contender and is placed into a setup role.
Russell Branyan (IB, Cle) – The 34 year-old held out a little too long for a multi-year contract, and should have re-signed with the Mariners when they extended him an offer after the 2009 regular season concluded. As it now stands, Branyan joined Cleveland on a paltry one-year deal to back up uber-prospect Matt LaPorta, and possibly DH against righties. If Branyan hadn’t suffered a herniated disc in his back in August, he might have had a crack at 40 homers and gotten the big free agent payday he wanted. As things currently stand, Branyan’s long swing creates a small margin for error, as his career .234 batting average will attest. Don’t get sucked into one good year amid a career of swings and misses.
Marlon Byrd (OF, Cubs) – Although he’s headed for the so-called Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, are there friendlier confines in MLB than the launching pad he left behind in Arlington, Texas? Byrd should have ample RBI opportunities with Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez hitting in front of him, but last year was the first time he received more than 500 at bats in a season in his eight-year career. Byrd isn’t stellar defensively, and his move to the National League eliminates the possibility of DH duty. If you believe Byrd will flourish in the National League, then take a shot. Personally, I’m staying away if 20 homers in 547 at bats is the 32 year-old’s upside.
Jorge De la Rosa (SP, Col) – Jorge had a nice season pitching for playoff-bound Colorado, and has shown marked improvement in almost every pitching category in each of his last four seasons. Having recently signed another one-year deal with the Rockies, De la Rosa should be plenty motivated to pitch his heart out this season in an attempt to secure a long-term deal at the end of 2010. Finally, Colorado isn’t the hellhole for pitchers it was ten years ago, as some of the Mile High mystique seems to have worn off with the decrease in scoring in recent seasons.
JD Drew (OF, Bos) – Thought to be on the downside of his disappointing career, Drew played as if it were a contract season with one of his highest OPS ever. While 68 RBI from an outfielder who doesn’t get steals is hardly worth salivating over, Drew is streaky enough so that he may get hot and provide your team with a solid OF5 when one of your other outfielders gets hurt. JD sits against most lefties, which helps to keep his batting average and OPS up, and his name off the disabled list.
Ryan Franklin (RP, StL) – Widely believed to be the biggest surprises of the 2009 season, Franklin titillated both fantasy owners as well as his own coaches with 38 saves and a 1.92 ERA. He’ll be counted on for a repeat performance in 2010 on an elite contender in St. Louis. Since he lacks a proven track record, Franklin could fall to the middle rounds, where he would be a bargain.
Frank Francisco (RP, Tex) – For someone who made three trips to the disabled list, Francisco had a pretty good year with 25 saves and a 1.11 WHIP. The 30 year-old righty is a legitimate talent, but has two factors working against him: 2009 proved that Francisco can be injury-prone, he pitches for Texas, a team that, with so much offensive talent, has a tendency to win big (thereby creating fewer save opportunities).
Brian Fuentes (RP, LAA) – Although he had a career-high 48 saves, Fuentes struggled at times with his command, and was shaky towards the end of the season. Furthermore, the Angels signed former Detroit stopper Fernando Rodney, who figures to cut into Fuentes’ save totals. Traditionally, left-handed closers need to be dynamite every night in order to keep their job as ninth-inning specialists, and Fuentes did not have the stuff to get the job done as 2009 wound down. However, Rodney can be just as shaky as Fuentes in spite of his 37-save season a year ago, so take a wait-and-see approach as to how the Angel bullpen situation shakes out towards the end of spring training, and in the meantime, don’t spend more than a late-round flyer on Fuentes if everyone else in your league is scared off by the Angels’ closer situation.
Raul Ibanez (OF, Phi) – The 37 year-old made a favorable impression on Philadelphia fans (not always an easy task), and posted career numbers with the protection of a mighty Phillie lineup he never had in Seattle or Kansas City. While Rauuul! has had a solid track record of production, and lit up the stat sheet in the first half of ‘09, one should expect a little regression in his second season how that National League pitchers have a better handle on how to pitch to Ibanez.
Brandon Inge (3B, Tigers) – Inge started 2009 off gangbusters, but knee problems derailed his production after the All-Star Break. Further more, he’ll no longer be catcher eligible, which pretty much kills his fantasy value unless you need a third baseman who will sap your BA in exchange for some pop. Mixed leaguers would be well-served to keep Inge out of their starting lineup unless injuries create depth issues.
Jason Kubel (OF, Twins) – Kubel, whom I affectionately started calling “Turtle” based on his uncanny resemblance to Jerry Ferrara’s character on Entourage, busted out in a big way in 2009 with improved stats across the board. With the heart of the Twins’ lineup intact for the next several years coupled with the addition of 564-HR legend Jim Thome, the 28 year-old could have even more in store down the road if he can find a way to hit left-handed pitching (.644 OPS) nearly as well as right-handed pitching (1.013).
Derrek Lee (1B. Cubs) – D-Lee provided a rare ray of sunshine for an otherwise overcast Cubs team in 2009. Many skeptics were convinced that Lee’s days of hitting 35 HR and amassing 110+ RBI ended five years ago, but he proved that his surgically-repaired right wrist was fully healed. While I wouldn’t expect the 34 year-old to repeat last season’s numbers, I would gladly take the durable Lee as a middle-round corner infielder once the elite options are gone.
Joel Piniero (SP, StL) - Coming of five consecutive awful seasons, Pineiro finally took renowned Cardinal pitching coach Dave Duncan’s instruction to heart, and revived his career with 15 wins, a 3.49 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP as he headed into free agency. The Angels signed the 31 year-old to a two-year contract worth $16M. While Pineiro was so bad in his previous seasons, his move back to the American League scares me, so I’m staying away, as his lackluster strikeout totals are a detriment in 5x5 leagues.