It's a new season. And, for the first time in seven years, I've decided to pass on my usual head-to-head format, focusing instead on the rotisserie style of play. I've been invited to play in a 12-team, 5x5 keeper league. As the lone newcomer to this group, I've actually inherited a pretty decent team. A couple of trades, two free agent signings and 12 keeper selections later, here is where I stand prior to the March 12 draft:
C – Bengie Molina; 2B – Chase Utley; 3B – Alex Rodriguez; SS – Julio Lugo; OF – Andruw Jones, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon; MI – Edgar Renteria; SP – Matt Cain; CL – Brad Lidge, Chad Cordero, Keith Foulke; Farm – Craig Hansen.
Through my pre-draft transactions and keeper decisions, I've tried to build a well-rounded team, combining average, power and speed on offense, and having a head start on a solid bullpen along with a very promising young starting pitcher. For the first five selections of this 25-round draft, I have the fourth pick, based on my team's finish from a year ago. Beginning in Round 6, the draft serpentines, giving me the ninth pick in the even-numbered rounds.
Assessing my immediate vacancies, I still need a first baseman, a corner man, another catcher (we start two in this league), two more outfielders, another closer and, most importantly, more starting pitching.
With this draft technically beginning with the 13th round (after each team keeps 12 players), it's vital for me to select quality starting pitchers with my first couple of picks. After Brian Giles, Randy Johnson and Brett Myers go off the board, I settle on John Patterson to give me good strikeout numbers, ERA and WHIP, while pitching once again in pitcher-friendly RFK Stadium. I'm also hoping he can notch a few more wins for the Nationals this season. … Four more starting pitchers are selected prior to my second pick, when I take Jon Garland, who while lacking in strikeouts, can hopefully repeat his 2005 season in the other three categories. … With a starting staff of three solid starters (along with keeper Cain), I go to my main positional need at first base. I decide on last year's up-and-comer for the A's, Dan Johnson, who posted 15 HR, 58 RBI and 54 runs in 375 at-bats following his May call-up. … I had been dreading the thin pool of available remaining catchers that I'd have to choose from, but to my surprise, Jorge Posada is still there (Michael Barrett and Ramon Hernandez were selected earlier). The thought of having the Nos. 1, 3, 5 and 7 hitters in the powerful Yankee lineup makes Posada too enticing to pass up. … After taking care of two crucial position vacancies, I go back to starting pitching and grab Jose Contreras. With the Nos. 3 and 4 projected starters in the White Sox rotation, I'm obviously counting on the South Siders to enjoy another successful season following their title run.
Occupying the fourth selection in the first five rounds has spoiled me, as I wait forever, it seems, before my sixth rounder. I decide to fill my corner need by selecting the steady Shea Hillenbrand, who figures to get an ample amount of RBI opportunities in an improved Blue Jays lineup. … As a result of my opponents' keeper and earlier draft selections, the closer ranks are thinning out. The news on Foulke's knees isn't good, so I think it prudent to shore up with the Braves' off-season anointed stopper, Chris Reitsma. No, according to just about everybody, he's not a lock to go the distance as the late-inning specialist in Atlanta, but he hasn't lost the job yet. … Now it's on to filling my outfield gaps. I draft Emil Brown, who had some decent numbers across the board last season, despite playing for the Royals, including a handful of stolen bases. Kansas City's lineup figures to be improved this year after some off-season acquisitions. … Another surprise from 2005 was Brady Clark, who I make my ninth selection. There's talk Clark may move to the two-hole with Rickie Weeks leading off instead, but that rumor is later squelched. Although Clark was only 10 for 23 on the basepaths, he's been working on his jumps in spring training and manager Ned Yost continues to give him the green light – a sign of possibly more thefts to come. … I decide on yet another emerging outfielder from last season in Round 10 by taking the Rockies' Cory Sullivan, who is also a threat to steal bases and obviously score runs while hitting at the top of the Coors-aided Colorado lineup.
Pitchers are the picks of choice in this group of rounds. Jarrod Washburn pitching in Safeco for the Mariners seems like a good bet, so I grab him at No. 11. … With my bullpen situation a little tenuous, I decide secure setup men who may get save opportunities, should the regular closer on their respective teams have injury issues or simply need rest. Scot Shields, who collected 10 wins, seven saves and averaged over a strikeout per inning is a solid choice. … Notching five saves for the A's while filling in for the injured Huston Street last season was Justin Duchscherer, who also registered a strikeout per inning and posted a WHIP just over 1.00. … Although his strikeout total left a lot to be desired, I take Carlos Silva with my 14th selection. His 3.44 ERA and 1.17 WHIP from last year compare very favorably with the starters remaining on the board. … I return to the middle relievers by selecting fireballer Kyle Farnsworth, who figures to get ample opportunities for Yankee relief wins and also save chances when Mariano Rivera needs a day off.
Along with the 34 active roster spots permitted in this league, we're also allowed to carry five minor league players. The Marlins' Eric Reed is losing the battle for the starting center field position, but possesses some pretty decent speed. I'm banking on him coming around to eventually overtake the unheralded Reggie Abercrombie and provide me with another possible source of steals. … At the time of my draft, assumptions have been made as to who will close for the Braves should Reitsma falter. I've seen news on both Joey Devine and Anthony Lerew as possible replacements. Since Devine is already gone, I take Lerew at No. 17. … Showing signs of promise in the Mets' camp is Brian Bannister, son of former major leaguer Floyd. There's talk that Bannister may worm his way into the back-end of the rotation by the end of spring training, so I decide to make him one of my farm hands. Since Bannister is very much of an unknown at this point, it would may have been more advantageous to grab Mike Timlin, who is taken four picks later, as insurance for the questionable Foulke. The fact that I have Boston's possible closer of the future in Hansen, however, is comforting. … With Utley as my lone second baseman, I get him a backup and select Colorado's Luis A. Gonzalez. With Aaron Miles gone to St. Louis, Gonzalez figures to be the everyday guy, and he's been enjoying a nice spring as well. … The pickings are getting pretty slim now, but Darin Erstad is still available. With a return to his original center field position for the Angels to make room for Casey Kotchman at first base, Erstad could be susceptible to more injuries, but his past stolen base contributions on a team that is aggressive on the basepaths make it worth my while to select the veteran in the 20th round.
The closer situation in Pittsburgh is far from settled. And since Salomon Torres helped carry me to the title in one of my leagues last year with a couple of timely saves down the stretch, I add him to my squad. Lefty Mike Gonzalez is the other candidate for saves in Steel Town. … Omar Vizquel started out strong last season and faded in the second half, but still stole 24 bases for a Giants manager who isn't big on running. … As protection for Lidge, I take the Astros' effective setup man, Dan Wheeler, at No. 23. … Word out of Phillies camp is that new closer Tom Gordon is having elbow problems. Arthur Rhodes, who has major league closer experience, figures to be next in line if Gordon can't go or struggles. … Since I have a couple of minor league spots to fill, I get two selections in the 25th and final round, taking Padres' unproven speedster Freddy Guzman and then, on a tip from my friends at Futurebacks.com, select Diamondbacks non-roster invitee Chris Carter, who has been raking the ball this spring, but is still expected to begin the season in the minors.
So after the draft, here is my 39-man squad. For each weekly scoring period, we're required to start 14 position players and 10 pitchers (any combination of starters and relievers).
C – *B. Molina, *J. Posada
1B – *D. Johnson, D. Erstad
2B – *C. Utley, L. Gonzalez
3B – *A. Rodriguez
SS – *J. Lugo, O. Vizquel
MI – *E. Renteria
CI – *S. Hillenbrand
OF – *A. Jones, *H. Matsui, *J. Damon, *E. Brown, *B. Clark
UT – *C. Sullivan
SP – *M. Cain, *J. Patterson, *J. Garland, *J. Contreras, *J. Washburn, C. Silva
MR – *S. Shields, J. Duchscherer, K. Farnsworth, S. Torres, D. Wheeler, A. Rhodes
CL – *B. Lidge, *C. Cordero, *K. Foulke, *C. Reitsma
Farm – C. Hansen, E. Reed, A. Lerew, B. Bannister, F. Guzman, C. Carter
* Indicates members of my projected opening week starting lineup
POST-DRAFT ROSTER MOVES
During the week after the draft, I completed a couple of transactions based on some injury news. With Armando Benitez suffering from a bothersome knee, I scooped up Tyler Walker, the Giants' fill-in closer from last season while Benitez was on the shelf. To make room, I parted with Guzman, who had already been demoted to the Padres' minors and doesn't figure to crack San Diego's deep outfield anytime soon to get regular playing time.
And reports out of Philadelphia are that David Bell (back spasms) won't be ready for the start of the regular season, opening the door for the newly acquired Abraham O. Nunez to man the hot corner. Nunez put up respectable numbers while replacing the injured Scott Rolen in St. Louis last season. Alex S. Gonzalez, formerly of Tampa Bay, is said to be competing and possibly platooning with Nunez at third. But the Phillies have also been experimenting with Gonzalez in the outfield this spring, which tells me that Nunez is the frontrunner to fill in for Bell. Phillies setup man Rhodes was cut from my team to allow the Nunez pickup. Although Gordon, the projected Philadelphia closer, has experienced some elbow discomfort, he recently tossed a minor league inning without incident. Also, USA Today's Sports Weekly reported last week that Rhodes has said he doesn't want any part of closing, further cementing this particular roster decision.
I'll track my team's progress during the course of the year with articles at both the All-Star break and at the end of the season. Good luck with your respective drafts! Further questions or comments can be e-mailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.