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This is a little delayed, as I made a trip to Connecticut to see my alma mater down Tennessee over the weekend, but it seems that an “Idiots” reunion is in the offing in Tampa Bay. The Rays have reportedly signed both Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon to one-year contracts (Damon to a $5.25 million deal with incentives and Manny to a $2 million deal). 

 

(AP photo) Johnny Damon, left, and Manny Ramirez will reunite in Tampa Bay. Can their reunion help their fantasy status or that of any other Rays?.

(AP photo) Johnny Damon, left, and Manny Ramirez will reunite in Tampa Bay. Can their reunion help their fantasy status or that of any other Rays?.

It’s tough to imagine either returning to their 2004 form. Manny really struggled last season with injuries and was especially ineffective after his trade to the White Sox. In 24 games, Manny wasn’t Manny, hitting just one home run and batting in just two RBI. Overall, Manny had the worst statistical season as a full-time major leaguer, hitting .298 with 9 home runs and 42 RBI in 90 games. His OPS wasn’t terrible at .870, so all was not lost, yet there’s no denying Manny has not been the same since he was suspended for 50 games during the 2009 for violating the MLB performance-enhancing drug policy. For his career, Manny has hit .299 with 25 home runs and 72 RBI and a .623 slugging percentage and a 1.003 OPS at Tropicana Field. He’ll likely be restricted to DH duty to save wear and tear on his legs and hamstrings, but I would still be averse to drafting Manny after his performance last season. Best case scenario, he is the 2011 version of 2010 Vlad Guerrerro — a late round pickup who well exceeds expectations with periods of ineffectiveness.

Damon, meanwhile, is likely to be the Rays’ primary left-fielder. He had a decent 2010, hitting .271 with 8 home runs, 51 RBI and 11 stolen bases to go along with a .756 OPS. Damon’s steal totals have been under 15 for the last two years (he had 12 in 2009), but the Rays led the Major Leagues in steals in 2010 with 172. A lot of that came from new Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford, but assuming Damon can stay healthy I could see Rays manager Joe Maddon giving him the green light to swipe a few bags. I think he also has the ability to get back over 100 runs scored hitting in front of Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Manny. In my opinion, Damon is probably a lower-level third outfielder or perhaps a solid bench option in fantasy leagues.

One thing both players may benefit from is familiarity with the AL East, with both having played a significant portion of their careers in the division with the Red Sox.

In the end, at the very least the duo should make things interesting in St. Pete and when they come to Fenway Sox fans should have a field day.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted in this space, but today’s dreadful snow (you can see my thoughts on snow in general here) lead my mind to wander toward the start of Spring Training. In roughly a month, the boys of summer will return to the diamond to prepare for the 2011 season. And now that fantasy football has closed its book for another year, it’s time to start considering what you will want your fantasy baseball team to look like this spring/summer.

A couple of players really will benefit from a change in scenery. I’m of course talking about Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. AGon has a swing made for Fenway Park and should see an uptick in production thanks to a move out of cavernous Petco Park and into Fenway. Gonzalez has hit more than 30 homers in each of the last four seasons and knocked in over 100 runs in three of the four (and finished with 99 RBI in 2009). He should fit right in with the Red Sox’ hitting philosophy, seeing as he lead the National League in walks in 2009 with 119. Crawford, meanwhile, will benefit from having more talent around him in the lineup than he ever had in Tampa Bay and should be able to pepper the wall in left. He is coming off a career-high 19 homers and 90 RBI in 2009, along with 47 stolen bases. Even with the exact lineup yet to be determined, Crawford is in likely to put up big numbers in Boston.

Meanwhile, Cliff Lee should also benefit greatly from his move back to Philadelphia. Not only does he go to the prohibitive favorite to win the National League pennant, but he is likely to face his opponent’s No. 2 starter, rather than its ace, on a regular basis thanks to Roy Halladay being slotted ahead of him. Lee struggled some during the summer months in Texas from the heat, so perhaps the move to Philly will help him in that regard as well. As will playing in the pitcher-friendly National League, minus the designated hitter.

In other substantive news, the Twins are hopeful Justin Morneau will be ready for the start of Spring Training. Morneau’s concussion put a serious dent in many’s fantasy hopes. He had been having another solid season, hitting .345 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI in just 81 games. Concussions can be a difficult thing to predict when someone will recover from, so it’s hard to be all in on Morneau. I’d likely slot him behind Albert Puljols, Gonzalez, Joey Votto Mark Teixeira and Miguel Cabrera. And it’d be a toss up between him and players like Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder. So, I would not reach to get him. But I also would not be completely disappointed if he would up on my team.

And finally, Cleveland catcher Carlos Santana has resumed baseball activities for the first time since sustaining a major knee injury last August. Santana was as smooth at the plate as the song by that other Carlos Santana, hitting .260 with six home runs and 22 RBIs after his midseason call-up. I was big on the Santana bandwagon last season and I remain so going into 2011. Thanks to this injury and his limited exposure last year, Santana can probably be had in the later rounds at a real bargain price. He has solid power and had consistently produced at the plate in the Indians minor league system. He may also earn first base eligibility at some point in the season, making him even more valuable. It’s tough to like him more than fellow young phenom catcher Buster Posey, but I’m still bullish on Santana’s prospects in 2011.

Watch this space and The Salem News in the months ahead as we prepare for another fantasy baseball season!

So the Bills, reportedly, have finally unloaded running back Marshawn Lynch. It was clear that the backfield was crowded in Buffalo, and with the selection of C.J. Spiller in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft it became clear someone would have to go. 

Lynch has rushed for 164 yards on 37 carries thus far this season, with most of that damage coming in weeks 2 and 3 against the Packers and Patriots. Lynch had back-to-back 1,000-plus yard seasons in 2007 and 2008, but his production dropped to just 450 yards in 13 games in 2009. His yard per carry average has hovered around four yards throughout his career. 

Lynch clearly helps the Seahawks, who released former Cowboy Julius Jones to make room for the former California product. He’ll still likely split carries with Justin Forsett, but his potential could pay dividends with a change in scenery.

For the two running backs still stranded in Buffalo — hard not to like Spiller’s chances. The team obviously saw something in him which led them to draft him ninth overall despite already having two solid backs. And Fred Jackson has done little to impress thus far this season (87 yards on 20 carries in four games). Even though Spiller himself has struggled (14 rushes, 49 yards, 12 receptions, 1 receiving TD), something tells me Chan Gailey will feel the need to see what he has in the youngster from Clemson that so many people liked before the season. 

Spiller is already owned in most leagues, so ultimately it becomes a question of whether you think either Lynch or Jackson see more opportunities to produce. Ultimately, I think both do — but I like Lynch more.

For fantasy owners in the playoffs, and more specifically their finals, there is a sense of achievement and validation of a job well done throughout the season. It also leads to increased attention to one’s team even as the season winds down and pennant races come to a close.

But one thing that has always remained an issue — same as it is in fantasy football playoffs — is that real-life teams are more focused on getting themselves healthy and ready for the playoffs rather than necessarily playing their starters everyday. 

Injuries can cause complications. Josh Hamilton has been out for the last two weeks with a rib injury. It was just revealed today that it is believed that he has a broken rib. Hamilton had tried to resume some baseball activities last week, but quickly had to abandon that plan when he felt discomfort. Now, it is looking increasingly likely that Hamilton — an AL MVP candidate and similarly a fantasy MVP — may miss if not the remainder of the season, most of the last two weeks.

Joe Mauer, meanwhile, jammed his knee this weekend and could potentially miss the rest of the season. Unlike Hamilton, he would likely not be adversely affected by sitting out the rest of the schedule as he has been playing consistently right up until this injury. Given the toll catching takes on the body, especially the knees, one would assume that Mauer will likely not return until he is either completely healthy or mostly healthy. 

Of course, none of this comforts owners of Hamilton or Mauer who have made it this far only to see their prized players suddenly removed from their lineup at the most inopportune time. All they can do is try to replace the production and hang onto these star players hoping they make a speedy recovery. 

Mauer owners should just drop the Minnesota catcher, as most teams do not carry more than one backstop. Consider A.J.Pierzynski of the White Sox, who in the last 30 days is hitting .384 with two home runs and 16 RBI and is owned in just 36 percent of leagues.

Hamilton owners, however, should sit tight for a little while to see if Texas elects to throw him back out there in order to get him ready for the playoffs, even if he’s not 100 percent. Most teams will have extra outfielders on their bench, so carrying Hamilton while he is inactive likely isn’t the same drag as carrying the inactive Mauer would be. 

By the way, as the finals begin, don’t be afraid to make bold moves in order to win your leagues. This is it, there is no tomorrow. There’s no sense in holding onto a guy who has been struggling just because he has a big name. Just this week, I made the decision to drop Manny Ramirez and his upside because he’s been mired in a power outage since returning from the DL in August. I also found myself compelled to cut Jimmy Rollins in favor of getting production in his stead. At other points in the season perhaps I would feel compelled to hang onto these guys and let them figure out their problems. But now that it’s crunch time, you can only consider what these players can do for you in the immediate future (unless you’re in a keeper league, in which case you have to consider what upside players may have in 2011 — although I doubt many people will keep Manny or Rollins for 2011).

The Nationals came out and announced today that rookie superstar Stephen Strasburg has a “signficant” tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his his right elbow and that he’ll likely need Tommy John surgery.

The immediate impact is that Strasburg will be out for most of, if not all of, the 2011 season. He is unownable is every format and now you have to consider what Strasburg will be once he returns in 2012. Minnesota starter Francisco Liriano is just now returning to form after having Tommy John in 2006.

But, there have also been a number of pitchers of late who have come back from Tommy John surgery good as new, and in some cases better than ever.

The bottom line is that Strasburg’s promising future is on hold indefinitely.

More stars headed to DL

It’s been a rough weekend for stars, as a number of standout players have been placed on the DL.

As most of you already know, Dustin Pedroia was placed on the DL by the Red Sox on Friday. It seems as though he may have pushed himself too hard and come back too soon from his broken foot. My guess would be that he has likely played for the last time this season, but it hasn’t been officially announced. For now, I would hang onto him and just place him in your DL slot (if you have one). Bill Hall, who hit another home run yesterday and now has 17 home runs on the season, is been on fire lately. He has four home runs and eight RBI in his last nine games. He is a good candidate for teams who have a hole at second base now that Pedroia is back on the DL.

Alex Rodriguez was also placed on the DL on Saturday. The Yankees third baseman tried to play through a strained calf, but found it too difficult and was placed on the DL as a result. I think the Yankees will take it slow with him, not wanting to lose him for the postseason, but I would guess that he would be back at some point before the end of the regular season.

To replace A-Rod, or even Pedroia for that matter, Omar Infante is another candidate. In the last two weeks, Infante is hitting .400 with three home runs, seven RBI and two steals. He’s widely available — only 51 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues — and should see plenty of playing time with Martin Prado sliding over to third base to fill in for Chipper Jones.

And finally, Stephen Strasburg was placed on the DL today with a strained flexor tendon in his forearm. The Nationals want to run more tests, and have not ruled out Strasburg pitching again this season, but something tells me that it is likely that Strasburg’s rookie campaign is over. Why would the Nationals risk their future face of the franchise for a few meaningless starts in September. I think it’s safe to drop Strasburg in all non-keeper formats.

A couple of players hit the DL today, including two of the top first basemen in fantasy.

Both Kevin Youkilis (torn muscle in thumb) and Ryan Howard (ankle) were placed on the 15-day DL today. Clearly, their absence will be significant, but there are some options at first. Among those options:

  • Lyle Overbay, Tor (owned in 5 percent of Yahoo! leagues): .287/5 HR/12 RBI/14 R in last 30 days
  • Luke Scott, Balt. (owned in 32 percent of Yahoo! leagues): .315/6 HR/13 RBI/9 R in last 30 days
  • Adam LaRoche, Ariz. (owned in 48 percent of Yahoo! leagues): .264/4 HR/17 RBI/11 R in last 30 days

Additionally, Carlos Santana — after a nasty looking collision at home plate on Monday night — was also placed on the 15-day DL. There was cause for optimism, as the injury has been diagnosed as just a sprained left knee for now. However, options are not as plentiful behind the plate. More than likely, you may get stuck with a part-time player like Yorvit Torrrealba (.473/1 HR/11 RBI in 55 ABs in last 30 days) or if you’re lucky you may be in one of the 23 percent of Yahoo! leagues that Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki (.291/2 HR/11 RBI) is available.

Dan Haren now an Angel

Word has just come down in the last hour that Dan Haren will be sent to the Angels in exchange for Joe Saunders and two other pitchers plus a player to be named later.

According to ESPN’s 2010 ballpark factors (in which any number over a 1.000 favors a hitter and any number under a 1.000 favors a pitcher), Chase Field ranked as highly favorably for hitters — finishing fourth behind just Coors Field, Yankee Stadium and Great American Ballpark. Angel Stadium, meanwhile, was 25th out of 30 ballparks.

Haren is 1-2 all-time at Angel Stadium, with a 4.05 ERA and one complete game. 

Obviously going to the American League probably wasn’t ideal considering Haren now has to deal with stronger lineups, but he is also going to a more pitcher-friendly ballpark and should have a greater opportunity to pick up wins thanks to playing for a better team. All in all, not a bad scenario for Haren’s fantasy owners.

Some news and notes

Since it will be a quiet couple of days due to the All-Star break here are a few news and notes:

The latest on Stephen Strasburg

It was a good news, bad news day for Stephen Strasburg owners. The good news: the Nationals have said that Strasburg will continue to take his regular turn in the rotation once the All-Star break ends. The bad news: he’ll take his turn only until he reaches his innings limit of 160 innings pitched (combined majors and minor). At the rate he’s going he should be shut down around the first week of September.

I said this a couple of weeks ago, and it still hold s true: unless you are playing in a keeper league it’s best to try to sell high on Strasburg. This news undoubtedly hurts his value and will in turn hurt what you can get in return for him, but still the smart move is to try and see what the market will bear for him.

Red Sox inching closer to getting healthy

It may seem as though the Sox are cursed — with third baseman Adrian Beltre (hamstring strain) being the latest casualty — but things may be looking up a little.

Clay Buchholz appears to be on track to coming off the DL on Friday to face the Rangers at Fenway. Meanwhile, the forgotten ace Josh Beckett had a solid rehab outing (4 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 4 Ks, 0 BBs) at Pawtucket on Sunday.

Dustin Pedroia will also undergo a CT scan on Friday which could go a long way toward determining when he might return from the DL. If all goes well, the All-Star second baseman is looking to return sometime during the team’s West Coast swing which begins July 19.

Unfortunately, it appears as though Victor Martinez will not be back immediately after the break and his timeline is still uncertain.

Mets’ Beltran to return on Thursday

Mets fans got some much needed good news over the weekend as it was announced that Carlos Beltran will return to the Mets lineup on Thursday and bat cleanup. His playing time will come at the expense of Jeff Francouer, who has struggled since starting off hot. This is good news for Angel Pagan owners, who have been rewarded with solid numbers (.315, 6 HR, 40 RBI) from the outfielder. Beltran likely won’t play everyday, so be sure to check early once he comes back to see if he’s in the lineup on any given day.

Rookie to take Peavy’s spot in White Sox rotation

After losing Jake Peavy to season-ending surgery, the White Sox will turn to prospect Daniel Hudson in the second half. Hudson has been solid at Triple-A, posting an 11-4 record with 108 strikeouts and a 3.47 ERA. He is a player to keep an eye on, especially in deep leagues.

After what has seemed like an eternity, Josh Beckett owners and Red Sox fans received some good news today. 

The Red Sox righty reportedly threw a 41-pitch simulated game today at Fenway and reported no issues afterward. It was additionally reported that Beckett could begin a minor league rehab soon, but still won’t be back in the Sox rotation until after the all-star break. 

At this point, Beckett owners need all the good news they can get. After drafting Beckett at an average position of 78.4, fantasy owners have gotten a whole lot of nothing from the former World Series MVP. In fact, you could argue he has given them less than nothing since his ERA is an ugly 7.29 with a 1-1 record an a 1.66 WHIP.

He’s clearly not going to wind up being what you thought he would be, but perhaps Beckett can provide you with something down the stretch as the fantasy playoffs approach toward the end of August and the beginning part of September. If he can come back healthy, Beckett can be a very valuable commodity — something akin to a great trade pick up. And perhaps you can even deal Beckett to teams desperate for pitching help.

But remember, in 2008 he suffered a similar injury and was never right, including in the postseason.

At the very least, this is a step in the right direction.

Beckett throws simulated game

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