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wayne1218
02-22-2004, 01:24 AM
I will add the remaining divisions as they come in.


AL WEST:

ANAHEIM ANGELS
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Possible Lineup
1. Darin Erstad, 1B
2. David Eckstein, SS
3. Vladimir Guerrero, RF
4. Garret Anderson, CF
5. Tim Salmon, DH
6. Troy Glaus, 3B
7. Jose Guillen, LF
8. Ben Molina, C
9. Adam Kennedy, 2B

Possible Rotation
1. Bartolo Colon, RHP
2. Jarrod Washburn, LHP
3. Kelvim Escobar, RHP
4. Ramon Ortiz, RHP
5. John Lackey, RHP
CL: Troy Percival, RHP


What the Angels did this offseason:
The Angels are hoping to be the baseball version of the New England Patriots. Win a title; miss the playoffs the following year then win another. New owner Arte Moreno did his best Steinbrenner imitation and spent $146.3 million on free agents. The Angels landed arguably the best hitter and pitcher available in Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo Colon. As if that weren't enough they gave depth to their rotation by signing Kelvim Escobar and re-signing Jarrod Washburn. Anaheim also strengthened the lineup by signing Jose Guillen. You have to give a little to get a lot so the Angels chose not to bring back Brad Fullmer or Scott Spiezio. Both stayed in the division; Spiezio signed with the Mariners while Fullmer went to the Rangers. The Angels are the preseason favorite to win the West, but the Mariners are still tough and with the A's starting five, it's not clear-cut.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current Angels, 2003
Garret Anderson, 47th overall
Bartolo Colon, 48th
Vladimir Guerrero, 93rd
Jose Guillen, 94th
Francisco Rodriguez, 136th

Are they better, worse?
Whenever you add a potential 30-30 guy who hits .330 and a pitcher who threw the second most innings in baseball, yeah, you're better. The Angels definitely got a face-lift this off-season, but also threw in the tummy tuck and got a little liposuction. There is a difference between adding for glamour and fixing what is actually broken. The Angels ranked in the bottom third of the AL in HR, RBI and average. Bringing in Guerrero and Guillen is not only instant offense, but also provides protection for the guys that were getting it done, Garrett Anderson and Troy Glaus. Colon's 242 IP last season will help out a staff that was second to last in IP in the AL. Losing Spiezio and Fullmer hurts emotionally because they were both major factors on the 2002 World Series team, but the Halos are younger and stronger.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers
With all the big bats in the lineup, if a sleeper is going to emerge in Anaheim, it will come from the starting rotation or closer's role. Kelvim Escobar tried everything but batboy to be effective for the Blue Jays. Escobar couldn't cut it as a middle reliever or closer, but had a solid second half last year as a starter. The 27-year-old right-hander went 8-3 with 3.89 ERA down the stretch. Escobar also had a 2.76 ERA away from Skydome, which included 10 shutout innings at his current address. Really, 15 wins and 200 strikeouts are very much in reach. Troy Percival has been on the block and battled a hip injury last season. Francisco Rodriguez or Brendan Donnelly are worth a late round pick just in case.

Angels you want in fantasy
Guerrero will be the highest Angel drafted by far, but Anderson may provide more value on draft day. Anderson is consistent and durable. He has averaged 30 HR, 120 RBI and a .300 batting average while missing just 11 games the last four years. Getting away from Montreal may not improve Guerrero's numbers, but it will help his hip. Vladdy can say good-bye to that awful Montreal turf, but also the friendly fences of Puerto Rico. Guerrero shouldn't be affected by switching leagues considering he swings at pretty much everything, but don't look for him to run as much in this lineup with Anderson, Salmon and Glaus behind him. Colon is welcomed on any fantasy team, but not so much as an ace. He will give you innings and more W's with this lineup, but he is a long way off from his 200-strikeout years and constantly struggles to stay in shape. Now that Colon has his payday, motivation could be a concern.


OAKLAND A'S
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Possible Lineup
1. Mark Kotsay, CF
2. Bobby Kielty, LF
3. Eric Chavez, 3B
4. Jermaine Dye, RF
5. Erubiel Durazo, DH
6. Scott Hatteberg, 1B
7. Damian Miller, C
8. Bobby Crosby, SS
9. Mark Ellis, 2B

Possible Rotation
1. Tim Hudson, RHP
2. Barry Zito, LHP
3. Mark Mulder, LHP
4. Mark Redman, LHP
5. Rich Harden, RHP
CL: Arthur Rhodes, LHP


What the A's did this offseason:
The Oakland Athletics are probably the toughest team to grade. Who says goodbye to a combined 58 HR and 192 RBI in Miguel Tejada and Jose Guillen? Billy Beane does. Who can part with Keith Foulke and his 43 saves? Beane again. GM Billy Beane knows that his team will always be about the big three, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder. Even though most of their long ball threats went East, their money ball stayed home. Mark Redman and his World Series ring replace an inconsistent Ted Lilly in the fourth spot. If Rich Harden reaches expectations, the A's have another ace in the fifth hole. The overhaul to the offense continued when Ramon Hernandez and Terrence Long were traded to the Padres for Mark Kotsay. Bobby Kielty was also obtained from the Blue Jays in exchange for Lilly. Arthur Rhodes was signed to be their closer. Sounds like Beane had his typical offseason, lose the glamour, gain the grit.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current A's, 2003
Tim Hudson, 10th overall
Barry Zito, 45th
Mark Mulder, 50th
Mark Redman, 61st
Eric Chavez, 73rd

Are they better, worse?
There is no question that this team is worse. They've lost an MVP before in Jason Giambi and won. They've lost closers before in Jason Isringhausen and Billy Koch and made the playoffs the following year. But you cannot say that Crosby, Kielty and Rhodes make up for Tejada, Guillen and Foulke. The real question is how much worse? It may not be that bad because it wasn't like the Athletics were tearing the cover off the ball last year. The team only hit .254 and was ninth in the AL in runs. Beane is changing the offense by changing the chemistry rather then adding numbers. Here's a scary thought, the A's pitching is better. An older and wiser Harden and a crafty lefty like Redman is a good compliment to the three-headed monster. Harden started out like an ace, but got lit the last month. Rhodes is a considerable downgrade from Foulke. The lefty has given up a couple of big HRs to Dave Justice in playoff time and has only converted 17 of 44 save opportunities in his career. The A's traded for Damian Miller, who has caught RJ, Schilling and Prior, but he can't replace the 21 HR and 78 RBI Hernandez gave them.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers
It's hard to say that a guy who once hit 33 HR and drove in 118 could be considered a sleeper, so consider Jermaine Dye more of a value pick. Dye will be hitting fourth between Chavez and Durazo. If this team is going to hit at all, Dye will be in the mix. He hasn't been the same since fouling off an El Duque pitch that fractured his left tibia in the 2001 ALDS. Dye also separated his shoulder last year and played in only 65 games, hitting a miserable .172. He should fall in the draft and be a perfect late round outfielder. In his last healthy season Dye hit 26 HR and 106 RBI. Anyone who hits fourth is worth a shot. Bobby Crosby is also worth a late round pick. He can drive the ball in the zone, but has a tendency to K. The A's must see something great to let Tejada walk.

Athletics you want in fantasy
Hudson, Zito or Mulder can anchor any fantasy staff. Hudson would be the ace to take first because he is a five-category pitcher. He finished with 16 wins, but could have had at least 20. He had 11 no decisions in which the A's were 10-1 and Foulke blew four wins for him. You cannot argue with a 2.70 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. Zito's numbers were impressive, but down from his 2002 Cy Young year. Mulder was a Cy Young candidate during the first half of last season, but missed the last month and a half with a stress fracture in his right femur. He should be healthy. With Tejada gone, Chavez becomes the A's offensive stud. Chavez could be gone in the first two rounds of a draft because of the lack of depth at third base. It'll be important for Chavez to show discipline at the plate early in the season until Dye and Durazo can prove themselves. He should improve on his 29 HR, but not enough to warrant a late first round pick.


SEATTLE MARINERS
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Possible Lineup
1. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
2. Rich Aurilia, SS
3. Edgar Martinez, DH
4. Bret Boone, 2B
5. John Olerud, 1B
6. Raul Ibanez, LF
7. Randy Winn, CF
8. Scott Spiezio, 3B
9. Dan Wilson, C

Possible Rotation
1. Jamie Moyer, LHP
2. Joel Piniero, RHP
3. Freddy Garcia, RHP
4. Ryan Franklin, RHP
5. Gil Meche, RHP
CL: Eddie Guardado, LHP


What the Mariners did this offseason:
The Mariners still have the usual suspects at the core, but tweaked the team and definitely made it more home friendly. It may have taken four years, but Seattle seems ready to give up on the home run days of the Kingdome and adapt to pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. The M's let Mike Cameron's 137 strikeouts go to the Mets and put a more disciplined Randy Winn in CF. Rich Aurilia takes over for Carlos Guillen at SS. Former division rival Scott Spiezio will man the hot corner, as the Mariners parted with Jeff "I wish I still played at Coors Field" Cirillo. Raul Ibanez returned home and should find the Safeco gaps very friendly. The biggest change is the bullpen. Kaz Sasaki, Armando Benitez and Arthur Rhodes are all gone and top tier closer Eddie "everyday" Guardado was signed away from the Twins. The Mariners got rid of the deadweight and gave the house what it wanted, pitching and defense.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current M's, 2003
Bret Boone, 21st overall
Jamie Moyer, 26th
Ichiro Suzuki, 36th
Joel Piniero, 62nd
Randy Winn, 85th

Are they better, worse?
General Manager Bill Bavasi knew the Mariners hit just .263 at home and were next to last in HR in the AL. He had too many guys swinging for the fences. His pitching used the park and its dimensions to their advantage. Seattle pitchers had an ERA of 3.54 at home and 4.00 on the road. Having Sasaki return to Japan not only saved the team $8.5 million, but also will allow Guardado to handle the closing duties without controversy. Shigetoshi Hasegawa and young gun Rafael Soriano should be lights out in the setup role. The lineup is more geared toward speed and contact. Aurilia is a nice two hitter between Ichiro and Martinez. The concern is if this is the year that Jamie Moyer shows his 41 years of age. The M's are hoping that the improvement of Freddy Garcia and Joel Pineiro will balance that out. The right groceries for a winning dinner were bought this winter: pitching, defense, contact and bullpen.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers
You're better off falling asleep than looking for a sleeper in this lineup. The Mariners have recognizable names at the key position spots so there's no slipping under the radar. Rafael Soriano is primed for a breakout year if given the opportunity. Soriano is the Johan Santana of 2004. Hopefully, manager Bob Melvin won't make the same mistake Ron Gardenhire made for the Twins. Gardenhire waited too long to make Santana a starter when he was clearly the best in the rotation. Soriano has similar stuff to Santana and is in a similar situation. He is a dominant setup man and had a terrific walk-strikeout ratio of 11/55. Even if he stays in the setup role for a month or two, a 1.53 ERA and 0.79 WHIP can put your staff over the top. If Franklin or Meche should falter or any starter get hurt, Soriano will get his chance. He is worth taking in the middle rounds.

Mariners you want in fantasy
You can pencil in 40 saves for Guardado. He has 86 saves over the last two years and Safeco should treat him better than the Metrodome. The Mariners do their share of winning and play close games. Hasegawa is worth a late round pick should Guardado go down. This could be the year Pineiro wins 20 and becomes the team ace. Moyer is a year older and Garcia has been inconsistent. Melvin will look to Pineiro to anchor the staff. Any team would benefit from having Ichiro, Boone or Martinez. The question is at what price? Ichiro is a long way from his 56 SB and .350 average from his rookie season. He is no longer worthy of being selected in the top two rounds. Boone hit 35 HR and 117 RBI last year, but is overvalued because of his position. He is only one year removed from 24 HR and 107 HR season, which is a big difference considering where you have to draft him. Martinez is a very productive DH, but is one hard run out of the box from tearing a hamstring.


TEXAS RANGERS
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Possible Lineup
1. Michael Young, 2B
2. Hank Blalock, 3B
3. Alex Rodriguez, SS
4. Mark Teixeira, 1B
5. Brian Jordan, RF
6. Brad Fullmer, DH
7. Kevin Mench, LF
8. Laynce Nix, CF
9. Einar Diaz, C

Possible Rotation
1. Kenny Rogers, LHP
2. Chan Ho Park, RHP
3. Colby Lewis, RHP
4. Ricardo Rodriguez, RHP
5. Joaquin Benoit, RHP
CL: Francisco Cordero, RHP


What the Rangers did this offseason:
We love A-Rod. We love him not. We love A-Rod ... The Rangers dominated talks at the winter meetings with moves they didn't make. Alex Rodriguez went from the Rangers' lone star face to possible Red Sox SS back to Rangers captain. Tom Hicks stopped spending money and the Rangers dedicated the offseason to developing their younger talent. Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro were shipped out while Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock become the supporting cast to A-Rod in a dangerous lineup. The Rangers also added Brian Jordan and Brad Fullmer to balance the lineup and add veteran leadership. The problem for the Rangers is the same, no pitching. Kenny Rogers is with the club for the third time and is considered the ace of the staff. If that isn't scary enough, Buck Showalter and Co. will have to rely on Chan Ho Park to start making good on his ridiculous contract. The bullpen was upgraded with the signing of Jeff Nelson and the return of Jeff Zimmerman.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current Rangers, 2003
Alex Rodriguez, 7th overall
Michael Young, 85th
Hank Blalock, 86th

Are they better, worse?
The Rangers are not a better team now, but have given themselves a chance to be better in two to three years. Before last season the Rangers faced a dilemma because youngsters Teixeira and Blalock were each touted to play third base. When both bats produced big time, the Rangers found ways to get both in the lineup and Palmeiro became expendable. Keeping Blalock, Teixeira and A-Rod gives the Rangers a powerful, young infield for years to come. The pitching staff still has the deer-in-the-headlights look and a sign that says, "Hit Me." Rogers and Park are way past their prime, while Benoit, Lewis and Rodriguez are unproven. The key to this season will be if the bullpen can hold the lead. The Rangers blew 20 saves last season, but Zimmerman saved 28 of 31 games in 2001 and hard-throwing Cordero showed the ability to close games last season.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers
The bats are too obvious and the starting pitching is too risky. This would have been the sleeper year for Teixeira, but his 26 HR and 82 RBI last year are too glaring. For Teixeira, 30 HR and 100 RBI are in reach. Blalock's value will also rise due to lack of depth at 3B. With these two hitting before and after A-Rod, expect them to go in the early rounds. The best way to prevent your pitching staff from getting lit up is to stay away from Rangers starters. There is no upside. Although most of the element of surprise is gone, a sleeper could emerge from the bullpen. Cordero finished last season as the Rangers' closer. He closed out 12 of 15 games and struck out better than a man an inning. If Cordero should wither in the Texas heat, Zimmerman, if healthy, could get those opportunities. Zimmerman was dominating in 2001 with 28 saves and a 2.40 ERA. The Rangers had 63 save opportunities last year so to get the Texas closer in the late rounds is a steal.

Rangers you want in fantasy
In breaking news, A-Rod is the ideal fantasy baseball player. Saying you want A-Rod on your team is like saying you want to be Nick Lachey. If you like 50 HR, 130 RBI and a .300 average, and at shortstop no less, A-Rod is your guy. Rodriguez should go first overall in most drafts and he's worth it. When you have a player who does as much as A-Rod, other guys can't help but reap all the benefits. Taking the leftovers, being Justin Timberlake's friend from home, call it what you want. Blalock and Teixeira are these guys. Blalock will see nothing but fastballs hitting in front of A-Rod, while Teixeira can take advantage of all the free passes issued to the reigning MVP. Third base used to include guys like Chipper Jones and Albert Pujols, but now third base is turning into the SS position of two years ago. With Aaron Boone going down, Blalock moves into the top tier at his position. Brian Jordan has always been consistent and could be the Carl Everett of this year's team. Laynce Nix hit 8 HR in just 184 AB and could hit 20 HR if he plays every day.

wayne1218
02-22-2004, 01:27 AM
AL CENTRAL:


MINNESOTA TWINS
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Possible Lineup
1. Shannon Stewart, RF
2. Luis Rivas, 2B
3. Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B
4. Matt LeCroy, DH
5. Jacque Jones, LF
6. Torii Hunter, CF
7. Corey Koskie, 3B
8. Joe Mauer, C
9. Christian Guzman, SS

Possible Rotation
1. Johan Santana, LHP
2. Brad Radke, RHP
3. Joe Mays, RHP
4. Kyle Lohse, RHP
5. Grant Balfour, RHP
CL: Joe Nathan, RHP


What the Twins did this offseason: Minnesota made more news this offseason about who they lost than whom they were able to get or keep. All-Stars Eddie Guardado and A.J. Pierzynski are gone. They also need to replace two pitchers who started a combined 52 games in Kenny Rogers and Rick Reed as well as former Twins stalwart Eric Milton. The Twins will now be looking for some new faces to step up when spring training starts. New to the squad are former top pick Joe Mauer at catcher, new closer Joe Nathan (acquired from the Giants for Pierzynski), among other role players and minor leaguers. The Twins already had a great core to build with and many of those pieces will remain the same with the re-signing of Shannon Stewart and Luis Rivas. This will ensure that of the players in the 2004 lineup all were there for the Twins playoff run in 2003 except Mauer. The major changes will be in the bullpen where Nathan will step in at closer and the only significant returnees are J.C. Romero and Juan Rincon.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current Twins, 2003
Johan Santana, 41st overall
Joe Nathan, 121st
Jacque Jones, 159th
Kyle Lohse, 162nd
Brad Radke, 165th

Are they better, worse? It is hard to say that a team that loses a pair of All-Stars is better, especially when they are going with an unproven closer and rookie catcher, but this team is not worse. The Twins' lineup, while not flashy, is solid. They will again be among the best defensive teams in the American League. Their rotation can only get better as Santana, Mays and Lohse have another year under their belt. If Mauer offers anything offensively and is a steady defensive catcher, the Twins have to be one of the favorites to win the AL Central. They will run into problems if Nathan struggles in his new role and they are unable to find a suitable replacement or Mauer is so bad behind the plate that Matt LeCroy , a better hitter than fielder for sure, becomes their everyday catcher, but this team should finish with a winning record. They have good clubhouse chemistry and could be a postseason team.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers: It is tough to nail down a true sleeper on this team. Your primary choices for sleepers are Joe Nathan and Joe Mauer as they will be given regular duty to start the year. Everyday Eddie Guardado saved at least 40 games in each of the last two years and this means that Nathan should be given ample opportunities to finish with at least 35 saves. Apart from these two, keep your eye on Matt LeCroy and Justin Morneau. LeCroy hit .287 with 17 HRs in limited duty last year, but he is catcher eligible. If he is the full-time DH that will give him a full complement of at-bats in the Metrodome, where he hit .311. Morneau is currently listed as the second best prospect for the Twins by Baseball America. He has good pop and could be a great compliment to LeCroy at the DH against tough right-handed pitching. He will have to really impress in spring training, however, to avoid starting the year in Triple A.

Twins you want in fantasy: The most obvious choice on the Twins is Johan Santana. He has been a great middle reliever and an equally good starter, sporting an ERA of 2.86. If he starts the year as the ace, he could easily win 15-20 games and keep a low ERA. He will likely be the first Twin selected in fantasy drafts. You should also look at Shannon Stewart. He will be the leadoff hitter, and he hit .367 in the Metrodome last year. While he doesn't run near as much as he used to, he should get a few steals and score runs to go along with his good average. Other Twins to keep in mind are Torii Hunter, Joe Nathan and Corey Koskie. There are no "studs" on this team. Hunter has some good pop, but does strike out too much. Koskie and Doug Mientkiewicz are good average guys but provide little in the way of power. A big question will be whether or not Cristian Guzman is back to 100% health and ready to wreak havoc on opposing infields. If he is ready, then you can expect that he will be a solid source of runs and SBs and a decent average.


CHICAGO WHITE SOX
-----------------------------

Possible Lineup
1. Willie Harris, 2B
2. Aaron Rowand, CF
3. Frank Thomas, DH
4. Magglio Ordonez, RF
5. Carlos Lee, LF
6. Paul Konerko, 1B
7. Jose Valentin, SS
8. Joe Crede, 3B
9. Miguel Olivo, C

Possible Rotation
1. Esteban Loaiza, RHP
2. Mark Buehrle, LHP
3. Jon Garland, RHP
4. Scott Schoeneweis, LHP
5. Dan Wright, RHP
CL: Shingo Takatsu, RHP


What the White Sox did this offseason:
The White Sox had to make a lot of tough choices this offseason in who they wanted to retain and who they needed to let go. Staying on the south side are Frank Thomas, surprise sensation Esteban Loaiza, Jose Valentin, Carlos Lee, as well as some role players. Midseason additions Roberto Alomar, Tom Gordon, Carl Everett as well as Bartolo Colon lead the list of players lost to other teams. Most of the Sox free agent signings were veteran players that they could use to insert in cases of injury or poor performance. Marvin Bernard, Mike Jackson are Robert Person are great examples of players that were brought in to add depth and leadership to a ballclub that fell far short of expectations in 2003. The most interesting signing was that of Shingo Takatsu, the Japanese leagues all-time leader in saves. He figures to come in and compete with Billy Koch and Damaso Marte for the closer's job. The Sox did not replace Roberto Alomar at second, and look to go into the season with speedster Willie Harris as their everyday second baseman.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current ChiSox, 2003
Esteban Loaiza, 6th overall
Carlos Lee, 29th
Magglio Ordonez, 39th
Frank Thomas, 80th
Mark Buehrle, 180th

Are they better, worse?
On paper this team looks relatively similar to the team from last season. They do have several questions though. Offensively, at 2B and CF the Sox will rely on unproven players, and the starting rotation will be big concerns heading into spring training. The White Sox certainly have the talent to put together a successful season, but can they compete for the division championship? If they can get great years out of some of their everyday players they will be in most games because of their offense, but they have serious deficiencies defensively and a suspect back end of the rotation. Their bullpen could either be tremendous, or it could be a complete failure. With solid lefties in Kelly Wunsch and Damaso Marte, it will be up to Billy Koch to rebound and Shingo Takatsu to be the shutdown closers a team needs.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers
This needs to be Aaron Rowand's year. He hit .287 in limited duty last year after recovering a nasty offseason accident that resulted in a broken collarbone. Generally considered a top prospect in the White Sox organization, he will be the everyday center fielder and likely to hit in the top part of the order. Getting on base in front of the Big Hurt, Ordonez and Lee will do wonders for your runs total. The closer situation will also be one to watch. Kazuhiro Sasaki came over from Japan as the Japanese League's top closer once upon a time, and he flourished immediately. Takatsu is looking for similar success, as are the White Sox. He could rack up a lot of saves if he is the closer for the whole season.

White Sox you want in fantasy
The usual suspects will be here. Magglio Ordonez is a four-category fantasy player (maybe five, if he'd run again) who has hit at least .300 every year since 1999 and finished with more than 30 HRs and 100 RBIs each year except last year. He's going in the first round of many drafts. Carlos Lee was among the top RBI men in the AL last year to go along with his 31 HRs and .291 average. He also runs a little bit more than Ordonez. He should have another great year. Frank Thomas returned to being the Big Hurt with 42 HRs and 105 RBIs last year. His average was a little disappointing, but his power numbers are certainly worthy. Esteban Loaiza came out of nowhere last year to win 21 games and post a sub-3 ERA. This was his first winning record since 1999 when he went 9-5. It is unlikely he will be able to post a similar season, so don't overvalue him.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS
-----------------------------

Possible Lineup
1. Desi Relaford, 2B
2. Angel Berroa, SS
3. Carlos Beltran, CF
4. Mike Sweeney, 1B
5. Juan Gonzalez, RF
6. Matt Stairs, DH
7. Joe Randa, 3B
8. Aaron Guiel, LF
9. Benito Santiago, C

Possible Rotation
1. Darrell May, LHP
2. Brian Anderson, LHP
3. Miguel Ascencio, RHP
4. Kevin Appier, RHP
5. Jeremy Affeldt, LHP
CL: Mike MacDougal, RHP


What the Royals did this offseason:
After acquiring LHP Brian Anderson and RHP Kevin Appier via trade last season and resigning them both in the offseason, KC was poised to make a splash in the free agent market. KC's front office set sights high by landing OF Juan Gonzalez, C Benito Santiago, RHP Scott Sullivan and the 'professional hitter' Matt Stairs. Sneaking Sullivan away from the rival White Sox was a major coup for the Royals, and will provide great middle relief in the hope of turning leads over to the closer, whether it be Mike MacDougal or Jeremy Affeldt. Restocking a depleted and thin bullpen during the offseason was a must, as that group contributed largely to the Royals late-season tumble out of first place. Thus Sullivan and LHP Jamie Cerda from the Mets were acquired to bolster Kansas City's ability to hold leads in late inning situations. Arguably the most significant move in the offseason was re-signing OF Carlos Beltran to a one-year deal, which allows the Royals to make a serious attempt at getting back into the postseason for the first time since winning it all in 1985.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current Royals, 2003
Carlos Beltran, 12th overall
Angel Berroa, 97th
Darrell May, 125th
Brian Anderson, 157th

Are they better, worse?
Better. Definitely. Losing Raul Ibanez and Michael Tucker to free agency hurts, but getting rid of Rondell White is addition by subtraction. I mean, has Rondell White contributed anything ... anywhere? The real question is whether or not Juan Gone can remain healthy enough to provide the punch that's been subtracted. There's no question his better days are behind him, but a season of 35 home runs and 100 RBI is not out of the question. Having spent his last two seasons battling between losing and injuries in Texas, Juan Gone must find his way to the plate for more than 450 at-bats if the Royals expect to compete in the AL's worst division. A relatively balanced starting staff of veterans and promising young pitchers comprised of Kevin Appier, Brian Anderson, Darrell May, Miguel Ascencio, Jeremy Affeldt and Jimmy Gobble should be able to contain opposing offenses enough to pass leads onto the revamped bullpen. Having six possible starters will be a necessary component for the Royals to put fresh, healthy arms on the hill everyday.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers
The Royals have some very tempting young players on their roster who will make an impact in Fantasy Leagues this season. On the mound, Jimmy Gobble was called up late last season and started nine games, losing just over half, but maintained a better than 2:1 K to BB ratio in 52.2 IP, and a 4.61 ERA. His numbers don't blow you away, but he's very young, and has some nasty pitches from the left side, including an outstanding curveball and deceptive changeup. Runelvys Hernandez might be available late in drafts as well, considering he disappeared off of fantasy radars last season with Tommy John surgery and a poor late season showing. On the offensive side, don't be surprised if Angel Berroa and Ken Harvey have great seasons. Berroa should be able to top his numbers from last season at short, including increases in stolen bases and home runs. If Harvey can get the at-bats, lay off the junk, handle the inside half of the plate and not get tangled up in a sophomore slump, he might hit around .280 with 25 HRs. Right now he's part of a DH platoon with journeyman Matt Stairs.

Royals you want in fantasy
Carlos Beltran is a no brainer. He's going to have a monster contract year. In fact, if he does get traded (contrary to GM Baird's public statements) he'll have an even more successful fantasy year than last year's .307 BA, 100 RBI, 26 HR, 41 SB, and 102 R. Beltran's all-around ability makes him a top 10 fantasy performer, and can be the center piece for any team looking to take a championship home in '04. Juan Gone could be considered a sleeper on this team, due to his recent injuries, but he should be drafted within the first 13 rounds simply based on his career numbers. Additionally, fantasy owners in '04 should view MacDougal as a temporary closer, because there are rumors that Affeldt might be moved into the closer role. Rumors are full of holes, and either closer should have no problem amassing 30+ saves in the upcoming season, though MacDougal might scare his owners a bit. Pay attention to spring training for the pitching assignments on this club. And last, but certainly not least, is Mike Sweeney. The oft-injured Royals first basemen looks to rebound after his mediocre '03 season and re-establish himself as a top-notch player.


CLEVELAND INDIANS
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Possible Lineup
1. Matt Lawton, LF
2. Omar Vizquel, SS
3. Jody Gerut, RF
4. Milton Bradley, CF
5. Travis Hafner, DH
6. Ben Broussard, 1B
7. Casey Blake, 3B
8. Victor Martinez, C
9. Ronnie Belliard, 2B

Possible Rotation
1. C.C. Sabathia, LHP
2. Jason Davis, RHP
3. Cliff Lee, LHP
4. Jason Stanford, LHP
5. Jake Westbrook, RHP
CL: Bob Wickman, RHP


What the Indians did this offseason:
Most of the Indians' moves came before this offseason as they moved to get younger and build for a future that they hope to resemble their great teams of the mid-90s. They did add some pieces to their bullpen and a couple veterans to help mentor their very young team. Jose Jimenez, fresh off being the closer in Colorado, was brought over to set up Bob Wickman. Also added to the bullpen were lefty Scott Stewart and righthander Bobby Howry. Ron Belliard was brought in to form a veteran double play tandem with Omar Vizquel as uber prospect Brandon Phillips continues his growth. Lost were former closer Danys Baez and Ellis Burks. Both were expendable.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current Indians, 2003
C.C. Sabathia, 95th overall

Are they better, worse?
This is a very young team that finished fourth in the AL Central. While getting to the playoffs is not on the agenda for this year's Indians, success will be measured by the progress of their core youngsters. Does Victor Martinez solidify himself as the catcher for the future? Can their young rotation show improvement? These questions are among several that will be the talk of Cleveland for the season. They will likely finish fourth again - at best - with little to no change in record. They just hope to get through the year healthy and learning.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers
The Indians' top prospects will be on display this season and one or two will likely emerge. Victor Martinez hit .289 last year in primarily back up duty to Josh Bard. The job is his this year and his minor league numbers show that he can hit. He has decent power and decent judgment of the strike zone. Also look at the closer situation. Bob Wickman is slated as their closer to start the year, but after missing an entire season, there's concern he can rebound. If he is not fully healthy or ineffective, David Riske, last year's closer down the stretch, or Jose Jimenez, could step in as the closer and notch a few saves. Also, keep an eye on first basemen Ben Broussard and Travis Hafner.

Indians you want in fantasy
C.C Sabathia is the team's ace and best pitcher. He will have a good WHIP and ERA and likely lead the team in wins. His strikeout numbers could be better, but he will be a good complement to a fantasy rotation. If you're looking at a situation where you need a closer, Bob Wickman is going to get first shot this year. He had 30 saves in two of his last three seasons. He keeps a low ERA and has proven reliable in closing games. Also look at a pair of Cleveland outfielders: Jody Gerut led the team with 22 HRs and hit .279 last season, and figures to hit third this year. And before his season ended abruptly due to injury, Milton Bradley was putting up nice all-around numbers. He's young and could be the first Indian taken in this year's fantasy drafts.


DETROIT TIGERS
-----------------------

Possible Lineup
1. Alex Sanchez, CF
2. Fernando Vina, 2B
3. Bobby Higginson, RF
4. Ivan Rodriguez, C
5. Dmitri Young, DH
6. Rondell White, LF
7. Carlos Pena, 1B
8. Eric Munson, 3B
9. Carlos Guillen, SS

Possible Rotation
1. Jason Johnson, RHP
2. Jeremy Bonderman, RHP
3. Mike Maroth, LHP
4. Nate Cornejo, RHP
5. Nate Robertson, LHP
CL: Fernando Rodney, RHP


What the Tigers did this offseason:
This offseason was full of changes for the hopeless Tigers. In fact, there now seems to be a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. The front office made some drastic changes to the roster this offseason by involving itself in the free agent market. The Tigers agreed to contracts with 2B Fernando Vina, OF Rondell White, RHP Al Levine, RHP Jason Johnson, RHP Esteban Yan, and of course, C Ivan Rodriguez, amongst others. Detroit also traded for SS Carlos Guillen from the Mariners to continue its improvement up the middle of the diamond. Additionally, the Tigers lost a local staple to their team, Dean Palmer, to retirement. It's easy to see why Palmer would retire from a club that has lost an average of 96 games a season for the last nine years. It's been almost that long since Palmer was a contributor, however.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current Tigers, 2003
Dmitri Young, 114th overall
Ivan Rodriguez, 118th
Alex Sanchez, 174th

Are they better, worse?
Come on ... can they really get any worse after losing 119 games last season? I surely hope not. In fact, the Tigers may have improved their club enough to avoid losing 100+ games for the third straight season. The AL Central is the worst division in baseball, so if the Tigers can remain healthy they have a chance to edge out Cleveland in the cellar. In 2003, the Tigers ranked last in the AL in almost every possible offensive category, including runs, RBIs, batting average and strikeouts. Pitching certainly was not a savior last season for the Tigers, where the only staff worse on a day-to-day basis were the embarrassed Texas Rangers. However, the young arms of the Tigers, Mike Maroth and Jeremy Bonderman in particular, should improve upon last season's failures.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers
Some intriguing sleepers from the Tigers are 1B Carlos Pena, CF Alex Sanchez and Bonderman. If Pena can finally live up to his potential and decrease his strikeout numbers by cutting down on his uppercut-style swing, he could be a force. Once a highly-touted prospect for the Rangers and Athletics, Pena has turned into an early career journeyman, who just might break out this season and hit .270 with 25+ home runs, and 80+ RBIs. Sanchez has been prized for his stolen base ability, but don't overlook his ability to get on base and score runs with the trio of Bobby Higginson, Rodriguez and Dmitri Young hitting behind him. Sanchez won't have more than 40 RBIs, but potentially could top 80+ runs in 2004, which would compliment his penchant for running (52 stolen bases last season).

Tigers you want in fantasy
Now that's an interesting proposition, Tigers you ACTUALLY WANT in fantasy. Wow. Any Tiger in my book should be taken with a grain of salt, but since you're asking. Dmitri Young is a great contact-gap hitter with some power ability. His power numbers have a chance to increase this season with Pudge in the lineup. Higginson is often overlooked in fantasy circles because of his affiliation with the Tigers (and injury woes), but if healthy he'll post improved numbers in runs and batting average. Higginson is coming off one of his worst professional seasons, due partially to the lack of talent around him. You can't depend on Higginson to carry your team for too long without help. Adding Rodriguez really gives this team a shot to improve offensively and in the most important column, wins. Rodriguez, if he can stay healthy from back problems, could improve on last season, his lone one with Florida. He's back in the AL, where he knows most of the pitching, and will hit right in the middle of a moderately improved Tiger lineup. Look for Pudge to maintain his status as a premier catcher in fantasy and hit around .300 with 90+ runs and 90+ RBIs.

wayne1218
02-22-2004, 01:32 AM
NL CENTRAL:


HOUSTON ASTROS
-------------------------

Possible Lineup
1. Craig Biggio, CF
2. Morgan Ensberg, 3B
3. Jeff Bagwell, 1B
4. Lance Berkman, LF
5. Jeff Kent, 2B
6. Richard Hidalgo, RF
7. Brad Ausmus, C
8. Adam Everett, SS

Possible Rotation
1. Roy Oswalt, RHP
2. Wade Miller, RHP
3. Roger Clemens, RHP
4. Andy Pettitte, LHP
5. Tim Redding, RHP
CL: Octavio Dotel, RHP


What the Astros did this offseason: Well, maybe you've heard, but the Astros made a few minor adjustments to their pitching staff. The offense hasn't changed. But now you can stop asking about Jeriome Robertson and Carlos Hernandez and all the other possible Astros rotation fillers; future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens has climbed aboard, in part because buddy Andy Pettitte fled New York for home first. Clemens and Pettitte were each top 40 starters last year, and while we worry a bit about Pettitte in this hitter's park, and about Clemens' age, both appear solid picks this year. With Billy Wagner's contract being dumped off in Philly, Octavio Dotel figures to get first crack at saves, but don't cross Brad Lidge off those lists either. Only other thing of note in Houston was Geoff Blum being moved to Tampa Bay, meaning Morgan Ensberg doesn't have to share at-bats anymore. 'Bout time.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current Astros, 2003
Roger Clemens, 34th overall
Jeff Bagwell, 35th
Andy Pettitte, 37th
Richard Hidalgo, 63rd
Lance Berkman, 77th

Are they better, worse? Like the Cubs, one cannot argue that the Astros haven't improved. Robertson did win 15 games for the Astros, but his ERA was over 5 and don't ask about that ratio. Clemens and Pettitte will win 15 and not get torched. Offensively we still don't really know for sure who will bat second in the order - between Biggio and Bagwell - but it could be Ensberg, and he thrived there for half the season last year. It couldn't be Ausmus or Everett, could it? Plus, Ensberg would either hit second or seventh. Some may have concerns about the loss of Wagner, and they would have a legit point. Dotel wasn't exactly the Eck the last time he was the closer.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers: Offensively the clear sleeper - that means a guy who should outperform his 2003 numbers - is Ensberg. He hit 25 homers in fewer than 400 at-bats. Get ready for 30 here. Also, to a smaller degree, don't write off Lance Berkman as the average player he appears from 2003. Look up 2002; he was a fantasy monster. Figure Berkman just had an off year. On the mound, expect Oswalt and Miller to thrive now that the pressure has been lifted from them. Clemens and Pettitte will be 200-inning guys, and now Oswalt and Miller can just go and pitch. Neither was spectacular in 2003; Oswalt due to injuries, and Miller just got lit a few times too often. Fifth starter Redding should not be forgotten. Redding might have been Houston's top starter last year. He made 32 starts, a third more than Oswalt. His ERA was half a run lower than Miller and Ron Villone. If Redding gets another 32 starts, he should get close to 150 strikeouts and win 12 or so games.

Astros you want in fantasy: OK, let's deal with the closer situation. Yes, it appears Dotel is the guy. But Lidge has been compared to a young Rob Nenn; an injury-prone hard-throwing righthander who really isn't built to go more than an inning at a time. Meanwhile, Dotel proved he can dominate in 2 or 3-inning stints, and Dotel was much more successful as a setup man as opposed to his starting or closing days. Just don't totally disregard Lidge when you're thinking of cheap saves. Meanwhile, this offense has five guys you must consider near the top of their positional rankings. A case can be made that Jeff Kent is the first Astro hitter off the board, since he's possibly a top-3 second baseman. At third, Ensberg is in the back half of the top 10. You wouldn't make Berkman or Hidalgo your first outfielder, unless you think Berkman's going to have another year like 2002 and Hidalgo won't deviate from 2003. But both could be your second OF. And concerns over Jeff Bagwell's shoulder may be affecting his throwing, but he's still a 35-homer bat. First base is deep, but Bags comes guaranteed - still. As for Craig Biggio, we're not impressed. No longer eligible at second and no longer running, you just take him for the runs scored at this point.


CHICAGO CUBS
-----------------------

Possible Lineup
1. Mark Grudzielanek, 2B
2. Alex Gonzalez, SS
3. Sammy Sosa, RF
4. Moises Alou, LF
5. Derrek Lee, 1B
6. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
7. Corey Patterson, CF
8. Michael Barrett, C

Possible Rotation
1. Kerry Wood, RHP
2. Mark Prior, RHP
3. Matt Clement, RHP
4. Carlos Zambrano, RHP
5. Greg Maddux, RHP
CL: Joe Borowski, RHP


What the Cubs did this offseason: The Cubs made the playoffs last season - as we all know - and didn't get to the World Series. Well, the moves they made this offseason might just get them there. First base was a problem in 2003 (think Eric Karros, Randall Simon, Hee Seop Choi, heck, where's Leon Durham?). So, here comes from Florida possible 30-100-20 guy Derrek Lee. Setting up underrated closer Joe Borowski was an issue. No need to tissue, here's LaTroy Hawkins and Kent Mercker. And don't forget that young and now healthy (we hope) center fielder Corey Patterson returns, Kenny Lofton is out. The Cubs did some other things, like switch catchers and oddly bring in Todd Walker, but that's the big news.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current Cubs, 2003
Mark Prior, 4th overall
Kerry Wood, 15th
Derrek Lee, 57th
Sammy Sosa, 58th
Matt Clement, 71st

Are they better, worse? The Cubs and Astros are clearly the top teams in the Central these days. How many more games can the Cubbies win over last year's 88? Let's say a few more, maybe 95 or so. Are we nuts? Not really. What was wrong with this team last season? Not much that they haven't fixed. The rotation is potentially dominant, with a pair of 250-strikeout aces and two more with 200 Ks. Juan Cruz might be a fine fifth starter, or the Cubs might add someone else. Ryan Dempster throws hard, and he might be a factor come July. Derrek Lee is a big upgrade at first. It would be a surprise if this team - healthy - misses the postseason.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers: On a veteran club, there's much to look at for guys you can sneak past your opponents in a draft. Some will obviously forget about or downgrade Patterson because he tore his ACL halfway through the year. But this guy was on pace for 25-100-30. Those are solid figures. Everyone knows about first baseman Lee, and the rotation is heralded. At this point it's hard to recommend Walker, since the Cubs claim Grudzielanek is the starter at second and obviously Ramirez is safe at third. Maybe Michael Barrett can finally figure out how to hit - he does have ability and has shown flashes, so maybe it was life in Montreal bringing him down. And potential fifth starter Juan Cruz could be very good.

Cubs you want in fantasy: Well, a mere glance at last year's Player Rater shows two of the top 15 guys in the biz are Cubs starting pitchers. Many pundits have Prior ranked as the top starting pitcher in fantasy baseball, including us. Clement and Zambrano are also major strikeout guys. People got a good chuckle when you drafted Borowski last season, but he's a solid closer at this point. Don't expect LaTroy Hawkins to steal his job. He's no Antonio Alfonseca, but still. Don't be surprised if Derrek Lee ends up the top Cubs hitter on the Rater, mainly because he's likely to steal 20 bases. Sammy will hit more homers, but Lee's right with him overall. In fact, they just about tied on the 2003 Rater.


ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
------------------------------

Possible Lineup
1. Marlon Anderson, 2B
2. Edgar Renteria, SS
3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Jim Edmonds, CF
5. Scott Rolen, 3B
6. Reggie Sanders, RF
7. Kerry Robinson, LF
8. Mike Matheny, C

Possible Rotation
1. Matt Morris, RHP
2. Woody Williams, RHP
3. Jeff Suppan, RHP
4. Chris Carpenter, RHP
5. Jason Marquis, RHP
CL: Jason Isringhausen, RHP


What the Cards did this offseason: While the Cubs and Astros appear to be going for the division title, the Cards didn't make the kind of moves that spell contender. Instead, they plugged holes with journeymen types. Marlon Anderson was curiously productive as a Devil Ray, and now he replaces Fernando Vina as the second baseman and likely leadoff hitter. Instead of get in the market for young corner outfielders with upside, the Cards made Reggie Sanders his - and this is amazing - seventh different NL team in the last seven years. Does Sanders have game? Well, sure, to some degree. But J.D. Drew was the guy with the upside, and now he's on the Braves, dealt for pitching depth. Finally, rather than go get a proven left fielder or first baseman (Tino Martinez is in Tampa), depending on where Albert Pujols plays, St. Louis brought former Devil Ray Steve Cox back from Japan and seems willing to try hitting-poor Kerry Robinson on an everyday basis. Jeff Suppan? Julian Tavarez? Heck, they even found Ray Lankford, once a Bobby Abreu type beloved in fantasy circles.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current Cards, 2003
Albert Pujols, 2nd overall
Edgar Renteria, 24th
Woody Williams, 51st
Scott Rolen, 53rd
Reggie Sanders, 84th

Are they better, worse? Strange spot Scott Rolen is in, eh? A few years ago he got exiled from Philly because they were saving money and waiting for a new park to be built. Now the Phils have that park and arguably a pennant contender, while the Cards seem to be heading backward. But they've got Rolen! This isn't a bad team, and if a few things go well - like Chris Carpenter's long-awaited return to a rotation, the offense keeps pace with last season and Pujols again plays like he's set on a Hall of Fame plaque - they should win more than they lose. Remember, there are three other teams in this division, all clearly worse.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers: Not a ton to tout here. Carpenter, actually, makes for an interesting case study. He was Roy Halladay in Toronto before Halladay was there (at least in upside terms, and really, he had his moments), but then Carpenter had shoulder surgery and that was it. Tony LaRussa scooped him up, paid him to rehab last season and now he waits. They see this guy has the best stuff on the staff. A little perspective, please, but still take a look. What else? Well, should closer Jason Isringhausen have arm trouble again, former Bucs Mike Lincoln and Julian Tavarez could figure in the save picture. Steve Cox was once looked at as a 30-HR guy, but he preferred Japan over Tampa. Could the Cards play him every day at first, with Albert in left, and see Cox at least put up the average Tino Martinez stats? Probably. But it's not worth drafting Cox unless LaRussa says so. One might pick Marlon Anderson as a sleeper, but really, how much better than 2003 could he be? Jason Marquis is the one guy who couldn't succeed in Atlanta. Why would he here?

Cards you want in fantasy: There are four fellas here who will merit long looks in the first few rounds of any draft. First, Pujols will go first in some leagues - definitely NL only ones - and at worst figures to go third or fourth in ML ones. We've seen Renteria touted as a mini A-Rod who runs, but remember he's likely to see that lofty RBI total drop as he moves up in the order. And you can never be sure of batting average. Renteria over Tejada, Nomar, Jeter... c'mon. I wouldn't. And Matt Morris and Rolen will get snatched up in the first four rounds of most drafts as well. Some think Rolen is just hitting his power prime. But he looks like a consistent producer who has found his 30-100 groove. Be happy with that. Woody Williams, Jim Edmonds, Isringhausen, you know what they can do.


MILWAUKEE BREWERS
------------------------------

Possible Lineup
1. Scott Podsednik, CF
2. Craig Counsell, SS
3. Geoff Jenkins, LF
4. Lyle Overbay, 1B
5. Wes Helms, 3B
6. Junior Spivey, 2B
7. Ben Grieve, RF
8. Chad Moeller, C

Possible Rotation
1. Ben Sheets, RHP
2. Matt Kinney, RHP
3. Wayne Franklin, LHP
4. Wes Obermueller, RHP
5. Doug Davis, LHP
CL: Danny Kolb, RHP


What the Brewers did this offseason: The Brewers didn't do a lot this winter, except trade their top player to Arizona for six players, four of whom could be in the opening day lineup. Good trade or bad trade? Consider the state of the team. Richie Sexson is a terrific power hitter and even at first base is definitely coveted in fantasy circles. But in reality it doesn't make the Brewers any worse. This team lost 94 games as it was, and unlike the division rival Pirates, the Brewers can at least field a somewhat passable lineup and are no worse on the mound. The Brewers will be bad, but Pittsburgh appears at this time to be worse. The guys acquired from Arizona have the potential to perform well while, for the most part, the team waits for kids at their positions. Start with Lyle Overbay, once a top prospect who has always hit for average, but lacked the power. Overbay's holding down the fort until top pick Prince Fielder is ready, which won't be this season. Junior Spivey was terrific in 2002, regressed last year, and now gets a chance to shine until Rickie Weeks is ready. That could be in 2004. Craig Counsell is not young, and merely a stopgap at short. Maybe he'll steal a few bags, score a few runs. And catcher Chad Moeller did hit in Arizona and could surprise. But we're reaching a bit.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current Brewers, 2003
Scott Podsednik, 43rd overall
Geoff Jenkins, 120th

Are they better, worse? Kinda hard to tell. The Brewers were the worst team in the division last year, but if the former Diamondbacks can produce offense, and we think they might, the Brewers might be a scrappy little bunch that takes some games from the division's monsters. Scott Podsednik must prove his fantastic 2003 was no fluke - remember he had never hit like that before, especially against lefties. Geoff Jenkins might be gone any day now, but he might swat 30 homers in Milwaukee if healthy. Wes Helms has power, and Ben Grieve, brought in off the scrap heap after miserable seasons in Tampa Bay, just can't be as bad as it appeared. The pitching staff isn't great, but it has a potential ace in Ben Sheets, innings eaters (which isn't really a great thing in fantasy) in Wayne Franklin and Matt Kinney and someone who has effectively closed in Danny Kolb. But don't even think about winning half your games, guys.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers: Nothing on the pitching staff, unless you think Nick Neugebauer is healthy and ready to consistently throw 90 MPH, or unless Adrian Hernandez makes the team as a starter. Kolb is generally overlooked, but he's actually safe as the closer and could get 30 saves in a full season. The biggest sleeper could be a guy likely to start the year in the minors. Second baseman Rickie Weeks was the overall No. 2 pick in 2003, and he hit well over .300 in short stints in the minors last season. The guy has great speed, takes walks and plays second. You gotta love him. That's why Spivey is a dangerous selection. He was a big surprise in his 2002 breakout, to the point even Arizona didn't see it coming. He has a little bit of power and in this lineup, he could bat third. Check out his spring training and what the Brewers are doing with Weeks first. Overbay and Grieve were big busts in 2003, and it wouldn't be shocking to see them produce a bit here as late round picks.

Brewers you want in fantasy: Podsednik is the first Brewer to go in drafts, because even if he doesn't hit .300, he's likely to find a way on base and run when he's on. But remember he did come from nowhere - the Mariners flat out cut him before the season - and he stole almost half his bases in the final two months. Fluke or Juan Pierre? Risky. Jenkins can hit, when healthy, and is the typical third or fourth outfielder you count on for 25 homers. Kolb should go in drafts, and so should Sheets, who has showed flashes of being an ace. Sheets didn't keep his ERA low, thanks to the gopherball, but look at his overall ratio. It's not bad, and it's a harbinger of better things to come.


CINCINNATI REDS
--------------------------

Possible Lineup
1. D'Angelo Jimenez, 2B
2. Barry Larkin, SS
3. Ken Griffey Jr., CF
4. Adam Dunn, RF
5. Sean Casey, 1B
6. Austin Kearns, LF
7. Brandon Larson, 3B
8. Jason LaRue, C

Possible Rotation
1. Cory Lidle, RHP
2. Paul Wilson, RHP
3. Brandon Claussen, LHP
4. Jimmy Haynes, RHP
5. Aaron Harang, RHP
CL: Danny Graves, RHP


What the Reds did this offseason: Some might say the Reds didn't need to do a major overhaul. Fact is, this team should be scoring plenty of runs, but didn't because the entire outfield and other spare parts were injured. Ken Griffey Jr. should be hitting 40 homers a season, and he could be joined by Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns. Sean Casey should be hitting .320. Brandon Larson should hit at least half his weight (look it up, hard to believe anyone can hit .101). So Cincy didn't make a whole lotta moves, and the optimist would say the team is justified. Of course, the Reds also didn't upgrade a pitching staff which featured a 5.09 ERA and ratio higher than 1.50. Well, unless you think Cory Lidle, who had numbers far worse than that in Toronto, is an upgrade. Ouch.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current Reds, 2003
Sean Casey, 197th overall

Are they better, worse? The Reds won only 69 games, so it's conceivable they could win a few more, or lose a few more. Depends on health, and nobody can predict that. Even on Griffey. We will write this: Lidle's been installed as the ace. The ballpark does produce runs scored (11th in the majors, though not nearly as high as many thought). Moving Danny Graves and his 5.33 ERA to closer can't hurt.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers: Let's assume that the sleepers here are the offensive players that you have written off because of injury. Griffey hit only .247 in his 53 games last season, but he did hit for power. Dunn has power. Kearns and Larson have power. Really, if healthy all four of these Reds should be hitting 30 homers. The key to the lineup might be second baseman D'Angelo Jimenez, once a highly regarded prospect, getting on base. He did that last season. Then comes the power. Figure Jimenez to be a sleeper who could steal 15 or more bases and plays a difficult to fill fantasy position. Figure Larson might just break out. Even LaRue has power potential. This offense might be pretty good, so make sure you're in on it. But don't ever take Griffey again in the first three rounds; all these hitters are sleepers only if you snatch 'em up after the first few rounds, when you need guarantees. On the mound, we advise you shield your eyes. Yes, Brandon Claussen does have an impressive minor league resume, but this isn't Yankee Stadium. And he's lefthanded and coming off Tommy John surgery still. Jose Acevedo might be passable, Aaron Harang might show the stuff he did in Oakland's system and Chris Reitsma might succeed in his middle relief role. Look in the bullpen, where young fireballer Ryan Wagner should be getting the saves, and may supplant Graves. Really, Graves is a sleeper, too. He found a way to get 30 saves a year before last year's mistaken move to the rotation. He could do it again.

Reds you want in fantasy: Griffey or Kearns deserve to be the first Reds grabbed in drafts, but don't overpay and be wary of injuries. Really, you might get rewarded by any of these Reds hitters - except for Barry Larkin - so, don't forget them. Just be careful. And see who gets the saves.


PITTSBURGH PIRATES
-------------------------------

Possible Lineup
1. Tike Redman, CF
2. Chris Stynes, 3B
3. Jason Kendall, C
4. Craig Wilson, 1B
5. Jason Bay, LF
6. J.J. Davis, RF
7. Jack Wilson, SS
8. Freddy Sanchez, 2B

Possible Rotation
1. Kip Wells, RHP
2. Kris Benson, RHP
3. Josh Fogg, RHP
4. Oliver Perez, LHP
5. Rick Reed, RHP
CL: N/A


What the Pirates did this offseason: Well, let's just say it's not real pretty. If you had any hopes that the Pirates would actually spend some money and try to compete, drop those thoughts. Brian Giles became a Padre before last season ended. And if you were expecting someone to take his place in an RBI spot here, you're stuck with Jason Kendall. And he might be gone before you even read this. Kendall's a fine player, for sure, but he's no No. 3 hitter. Just like Craig Wilson isn't a cleanup hitter. The Pirates did bring in a few players you've heard of, but Daryle Ward has failed miserably the last few years, Chris Stynes didn't hit much as a Rockie and now starts at third and ... well, that's it. The Pirates won't score runs unless Jason Bay is the real deal, and they won't prevent runs either. It's ugly. Oh wait, the Pirates brought in Rick Reed as the fifth starter. See, there's positive in everything.

PLAYER RATER
Top Current Bucs, 2003
Kip Wells, 92nd overall
Jason Kendall, 171st

Are they better, worse? The Pirates were 75-87 last season. Brian Giles, Reggie Sanders, Matt Stairs and Aramis Ramirez were on the team parts or all of last season. They're gone now. The pitching is generally intact from 2003, but that's not really a good thing when the staff ERA was 4.64 and the second and third best pitchers on staff after Kip Wells are gone (Jeff Suppan, Julian Tavarez). OK, cut to the chase; they're worse.

Spring Fantasy Sleepers: OK, so you know the Pirates will lose at least 90, maybe a lot more than that. But as a fantasy player you can overlook that as long as Jason Bay becomes a stud. Ah, there it is, we let the cat outta the bag. Bay, acquired from San Diego in the Giles deal, could be a great player. Or he could be average. Bay actually had an eight-RBI game as a Pirate, has a bit of power and has stolen at least 20 bases in a few occasions in the minors. Some have compared him to a Steve Finley type. But here he has to hit in the middle of the order, making him a sleeper. Be wary - why is there always a catch - that he had surgery for a torn labrum and he might miss some of the season. Other than Bay, there's not much. Craig Wilson has probably showed his hand as a competent major league hitter but not much more. But he's eligible at catcher, and that makes all the difference. Tike Redman has speed and did hit an impressive .330 in 56 games with the big club, so there's a chance at worst he could be a Dave Roberts or Alex Sanchez type. On the mound Oliver Perez has by far the biggest upside in an ordinary rotation, and he will strike many batters out. He'll also walk many. But, he could be a sweet late-round pick. Finally, we left the closer spot blank, but even on 100-loss teams someone saves those 60 games. Currently former Blue Jay Juan Acevedo is penciled in to close, but look for someone cheap to be brought in.

Bucs you want in fantasy: Look at the results from the 2003 Player Rater for advice. Kip Wells was the only Pirate to crack the top 100, and he was only 10-9 and earned the ranking based on a nice ERA and ratio. Kendall is a top 10 catcher - if he actually hits .320 he's top five - and should be on all draft lists. And Bay is bristling with potential. But in general, there should be no Pirates taken in the first 10 rounds of your ML draft. Take a few fliers late and see what happens (Bay, Wilson at catcher, Oliver Perez, whoever closes).