It was a question I had never been asked.
Before I gave a recent talk at Boston College, my introduction ended with "Matthew's publicly talked about how much he hates the Yankees, so he expects a warm Boston welcome. " I am nothing if not a panderer to my audience (by the way, you look great today!), and the response was enthusiastic if not expected.
After I gave my talk, during the Q-and-A session a young man asked me, very simply, why I hated the Yankees.
It occurred to me that I had never been asked that question before. Yankees hatred is so commonplace that it is taken for granted. If they are not your beloved team, chances are you hate them.
But why, specifically, do I?
I gave a quick answer about their arrogance and how, unlike most major league teams, they have an unlimited payroll and can afford to make mistakes. Contracts such as those given to Kei Igawa, Jaret Wright, Jason Giambi and Carl Pavano (not to mention renting Roger Clemens for half a season) would cripple most other teams, not allow them to shrug it off and sign CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira to a team already paying crazy money to Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Although I acknowledge it's not the Yankees' fault that baseball refuses to have a salary cap, they are an example of all the things that are wrong with baseball.
But the real reason I hate the Yankees is a long story, I continued. I said that if anyone was interested, he could stay afterward, and I would tell him. I make you the same offer: If you just want to get to the names, click here. Otherwise, stick around. It's the preseason. We have some time, and other than my
Draft Day Manifesto, this will be my longest article of the year. So let's take some time and enjoy it.
A handful of kids stayed after the talk was over, and this is the story I told them.
I've written about my late father-in-law, Joe Bendavid, before. In addition to loving the New York football Giants, Joe was a Yankees fan. And back when I was married to his daughter, Joe turned 71, and ex-Mrs. Roto and I decided to surprise him with tickets to see the Yankees.
This was way before I worked for ESPN, but my dad was friends with the guys who run Modell's Sporting Goods in New York (a big Yankees sponsor), so he called in a favor for me, and we got front-row seats to a regular-season game against Toronto. Like, on top of the dugout, in front of first base, literally the very first row. Crazy good tickets.
My father-in-law was thrilled when we reached our seats. He couldn't believe it. He'd never had seats this good. "Hey," he said with a twinkle in his eye, "maybe we'll catch a foul ball."
I looked around. "We got a shot," I said.
"You know," he continued, "I've been coming to Yankees games for 65 years. Never caught a foul ball."
Never caught a foul ball? Celebrating his 71st birthday? My father-in-law? Kids, we have a mission.
So we got to the seats, and remember, these were crazy good, expensive seats. Sitting behind us in Row 2 were four kids who I'd guess were between the ages of 8 and 10. A couple of things immediately stuck out about these kids:
1. They were bragging to one another about all the different toys, vacations, servants, whatever they all had.
2. There were no parents in sight.
Apparently, they were just dumped there or something. I know baseball is America's pastime and kids are cute, but let me tell you something, and I'm not gonna lie. These kids were superannoying. They came across as spoiled, rich kids. They were loud, demanding and, just like you would expect of unsupervised children, completely without a care about anyone around them.
They were discussing foul balls and bragging to one another about how many they had. This one had five, this one had three, a third had four, so on and so on. They apparently came to these seats a lot.
The game started, and we were close enough that the players could hear us. The kids knew this. And started screaming at the players.
"Throw us a ball! Give us a ball! Hey, mister, we want a ball! Give us a ball! Hey, throw the ball here! We want a ball! Please, mister, throw us a ball!" On and on they went. "Hey, mister! Mister! MISTER! GIVE US A BALL!"
If you think that is annoying to read, imagine it being screamed during the game, constantly, inning after inning, directly behind you.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, the Yankees went 1, 2, 3 with the final out a ground out. As the Blue Jays ran off the field, first baseman Carlos Delgado (told you it was a while ago) tossed the ball up into the stands. Many folks went for it, but I came down with it.
I turned to my father-in-law, all smiles. "Here's your ball, Joe."
As he looked at the ball, the kids started yelling. "Can we have the ball? Hey, mister, we want that ball. Give us the ball!" "We've been yelling," and so on. My father-in-law turned to me and said, "If you want to give the kids the ball, that's OK."
My father-in-law was a softy. I'm not. And I was not going to give up Joe's first foul ball in 65 years so some spoiled brats could add it to their collection. Just because you beg for something in an annoying manner does not mean your efforts are rewarded. Learned that while dating in high school.
But some wise guy a few rows behind the kids started a chant. "Give-the-kid-the-ball. Give-the-kid-the-ball." It picked up steam. "Give! The Kid! The Ball! Give! The Kid! The Ball!" Soon, the whole section was chanting this. GIVE! THE KID! THE BALL! GIVE! THE KID! THE BALL!
I ignored it and tried to watch the game. The kids turned from annoying to nasty. "Hey [mouth-washed-out-with-soap word No. 1]! Give us the ball, [mouth-washed-out-with-soap word No. 2]! He was throwing the ball to us, [mouth-washed-out-with-soap word No. 3, which, frankly, I'm not sure where an 8-to-10-year-old kid would learn]."
We continued to try to watch the game.
Then the food bombardment started. Peanuts, hot dogs and beer were thrown at us. Repeatedly. Security was nowhere to be found. We asked folks to stop, which made it worse. We tried to ignore it. But the food, beer and insults kept coming.
Order was finally restored a half-inning later when the first-base umpire came over and handed the kids some balls. The kids bragged to us. "Told you we'd get a ball, a--hole."
And that's why I hate the Yankees.
It's not just the team and the way it is run. It's not just its owner or the cheating, performance-enhancing drug users A-Rod and Andy Pettitte.
It's the collective known as Yankee Nation.
I came away from that game with a hatred of the Yankees and was absolute in this belief: Yankees fans are subhuman. Everything they and the Yankees stand for was represented during that half-inning. Like the kids, they are spoiled and demanding and see things only from their self-indulgent point of view. Like the adults, they act out when they don't get their way.
What should have been a great day with my father-in-law was ruined.
Much later, as I reflected on that day, I started thinking about it from the Yankees fans' point of view. Think about what they saw: Some guy in the front row (probably some rich jerk) grabbing a ball when there were what seemed to be cute little kids behind him, and all they wanted was a ball from the baseball game. "Awwwww. But that d-bag won't give it to them! Boooo!"
So I understand the frustration. They didn't know about Joe or his birthday, his 65 years without a foul ball or the fact that those kids were more "Cartman" than Stan and Kyle. They knew only what they saw, without any other context.
Now, where they went too far was the personal attacks and the food and beer-throwing. So I stand by my hate. And looking back now, there's a valuable lesson to be learned: You should not judge, because you never know the full story. Life is, as Jack White put it, many shades of black.
Although my hatred is still alive, it has softened. Since that game, I've met Yankees fans who are reasonable, intelligent people, including friends, colleagues, friends of colleagues and colleagues of friends. I'm even dating a woman who is a Yankees fan. Heck, Joe was a Yankees fan. I've been to the new ballpark, and it's terrific. And although I hate to admit it, the Yankees were the best team in baseball last season. They deserved to win.
I can admit that some fans of my favorite team (the Angels) can be jerks, too, as can fans of any team. Meanwhile, the newest Yankee, Curtis Granderson, makes my "Love" list below. And having met Jeter twice, I can tell you he's just as good a guy in person as you'd want him to be. That said, when it comes to the list of subhuman fans, it's Yankees fans and Philadelphia Eagles fans neck and neck for the top spot, and it's a ways until you get to the third group. (Don't believe me? Read the ESPN Conversation section and the comments from Yankees fans after this is posted!) But it's not all of them.
They say life is baseball and baseball is life, so as we dive (or, more accurately, meander slowly) into the 2010 preseason fantasy baseball version of Love/Hate, it's worth remembering that it's all shades of gray in terms of friends and enemies, places and events, professional athletes and our judgment of them. No baseball player is totally perfect or completely flawed. Generally speaking, it's more about how the pieces fit into your team than anything else.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of Love/Hate, this is my take on players relative to their average draft positions. Just because I list Ian Kinsler as a hate and Scott Sizemore as a love does not mean I like the Tigers rookie over my fellow Jew, the second baseman from Texas. Nor does it mean that I think Kinsler will have a bad season and Sizemore will have a good one. What it does mean is relative to their average ESPN.com rankings/average draft positions, I think mid-second round is too early for Kinsler, and you can grab Sizemore in the late rounds of an AL-only draft and possibly receive double-digit home runs and steals with decent average and upside for more. That's nice value so late, which I love.
For this season, I've decided to break "love" into three sections. The mixed-league section will be for players for our standard, 10-team 5x5 mixed leagues. In single leagues (the AL- and NL-only) in which the player pool is much thinner and you have to dig deeper, I've listed guys I "love" specifically considering the depth of those player pools.
As always, the "loves" are longer than the "hates," because it doesn't do anyone any good if I bag on bad players. And I know some people complain that I discuss too many players, but baseball is deep, and a fantasy league that uses AL- or NL-only options has even greater depth. Finally, I don't list the players in order that I "love" them; rather, I list them team by team, in order, starting with the AL East.
Sometimes I like to make a joke, and other times I spend a little more time on the stats part, but trust that I've done the research on every player. Or don't. What do I care? I've already got your click.
Adam Jones, OF, Orioles: He'll make it rain this year. He increased his home runs by 10 last season despite only five more at-bats and managed more than 10 steals for the second straight season while increasing walks and decreasing strikeouts. And he still hasn't gotten 500 at-bats. If he stays healthy (a reasonable assumption) and gets 600 at-bats this season, watch out.
Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox: He beat cancer; he can beat the likes of you. An elite No. 1 this season who's being drafted as a No. 2.
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Red Sox: Since joining Seattle in 2005, Beltre has hit .274 on the road (.254 at home). He moved from a team that ranked 28th in MLB in runs last season to one that was third and from a ballpark that was 21st in runs allowed to one that was eighth. He's also on a one-year deal with something to prove. I believe the Red Sox will get rid of Mike Lowell, as they've already tried to do. It's also worth noting that before last year's injury-filled season, Beltre had hit at least 25 home runs for three straight seasons. He needs to stay healthy, but don't we all?
Curtis Granderson, OF, Yankees: I've drunk the Kool-Aid, joined the cult and bought the Fathead.
J.P. Howell, RP, Rays: He'll be great even if he never earns a save. But he will, as soon as the Rays start dumping players at the trade deadline. You heard me. Or am I the only one who noticed that Rafael Soriano's contract is a one-year deal?
The Chicago White Sox: OK, I'm gonna say it. I kinda like Chicago this year. I see value all over the South Side. Did you know that career .277 hitter Paul Konerko hit 28 home runs (and .277) last season? That Gordon Beckham (14 dingers and seven swipes in fewer than 400 at bats last season) is a nice power-speed combo who will qualify at both third base and, roughly 10 games into the season, second base? That both Alex Rios (17 and 24) and Alexei Ramirez (15 and 14) were better than you think last season? And that the low batting average on balls in play for both Rios and Carlos Quentin (21 home runs in 351 at bats) suggest a lot of bad bounces last season, so you can expect some improvement in batting average? That Juan Pierre is a career .301 hitter who has not stolen fewer than 30 bases since 2001? And never fewer than 40 when he's gotten at least 375 at-bats? Hell, even Mark Teahen and Andruw Jones are sort of interesting in AL-only leagues, where it gets ugly quickly. Add to all this a favorable home park and Ozzie Guillen's crazy Twitter feed, and what can I tell you, I love me some White Sox.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Indians: Please read anything I've written in the past two years about him. And no, I'm not worried about his military obligations.
Billy Butler, 1B, Royals: I'm on the bandwagon; I've joined the Facebook fan page; I'm the one holding up the sign after home runs that reads "The Butler Did It!"
Francisco Liriano, SP, Twins: At my funeral, after the rabbi says, "He was right. Francisco Liriano was, in fact, the death of him," I ask that you remember me fondly, speak of me kindly and drink heavily.
Kurt Suzuki, C, A's: As I mentioned in the sleepers and busts column, he's still only 26 years old, he finished with 15 home runs and 88 RBIs last season and, for the second consecutive season, had a batting average higher than .270. A bad on-base percentage last season, yes, and he walked less, but if it means an increase in power (10 home runs/51 RBIs after the All-Star break), I'll take it. Unless you want to take a shot with Matt Wieters, once you get past the big three of Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez and Brian McCann, the catchers all seem the same. So why not take one who is still young, has some growth potential and who had 20 more extra-base hits in '09 with just 26 more plate appearances than '08? One of my three favorite Suzukis, next to Ichiro and my chopper. What? I could have a chopper. You don't know.
Rajai Davis, OF, A's: Sure, you know about the 41 steals. But it was in only 390 at-bats, the majority of which came after Matt Holliday left town. That's better than a stolen base every 10 at-bats. Jacoby Ellsbury had one every nine last season, to give you a comparison. Rajai got a little lucky with his batting average last year, but the speed is legit, 55-60 steals is not out of the question and he is currently going in the 17th round. I'm gonna make this point when we get to Chone Figgins, but seriously, there's no shortage of speed in the outfield.
Erik Bedard, SP, Mariners: See co-conspirator Liriano, Francisco.
Vladimir Guerrero, Julio Borbon and Chris Davis, Rangers: They're kind of like the Kardashians, you know? Flawed, no doubt, but, late at night (or in the draft), they can be useful. I'm speaking about late-night TV entertainment, of course. And about looking past your biases. Like Kim, Vlad's the big name, but you have to forget that he's "Vladimir Guerrero." He's no longer that elite stud. But in that ballpark, being the full-time DH, he still has the skills to hit 20-plus homers with a high average. As our draft kit notes, Davis is still just 24, is a career .306 hitter in the minors and hit .308 with six home runs in 133 at-bats after coming back from the minors last season. Kind of like how Kourtney has come back even more of a star after her pregnancy. And Borbon is Khloe, the least-known, but after appearances on "Celebrity Apprentice," a marriage to a Laker and a rookie season in which he stole 19 bases (and hit .312) in just 157 at bats, they have the most upside. Trust me, I know flawed-with-potential when I see it. I just spent almost 200 words comparing baseball players to reality TV/sex tape stars. It didn't totally work, but it was enough to get us to Rich Harden.
Rich Harden, SP, Rangers: See accomplice Bedard, Erik.
Neftali Feliz, P, Rangers: As of this writing, I don't know what his role is going to be. And you know what else? I don't care.
Martin Prado, 1B, 2B, 3B, Braves: Qualifies everywhere, won't cost you anything, will hit for a high average with a little bit of pop and not hurt you anywhere else. He's a lot more useful than you might think. That's sometimes said about me.
Jason Heyward, OF, Braves: I've bought the jersey, downloaded the ringtone, pitched the Saturday morning cartoon series in which he solves crimes with Takashi Saito.
Ricky Nolasco, SP, Marlins: Don't let the 5.06 ERA last year fool you. As our draft kit notes: "When he came off a two-start stint in the minors in May/June, he tore off on a 22-start hot streak with an 11-4 record, 3.82 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 10.06 K's per nine, numbers that look much like his 2008." Crazy strikeouts, great strikeout-to-walk, good stadium, decent team and his luck has nowhere to go but up. Nolasco is my Wandy/Ubaldo this year. I'm all in on Ricky Nolasco.
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies: J-Ro (I call him J-Ro) has at least 20 home runs in three of his past four seasons, and no less than 31 steals in any of those years. He is a career .274 hitter who started brutally last season but hit .272 after the All-Star break. Maybe he's not a Capital-S Stud, but he is still a stud.
Nyjer Morgan, OF, Nationals: Once he arrived in Washington last season, he hit .351 with 35 runs and 24 steals in fewer than 200 at-bats. The average will come down, of course, but the speed is legit, he is a good hitter (career .303) and it just goes to show: Anywhere is better than Pittsburgh. (Cut to a shot of Pittsburgh. "Hey, what we'd do?")
Jay Bruce, OF, Reds: You believe or you do not. I believe.
Wandy Rodriguez, SP, Astros: I've done everything over the years with Way Rod except marry him. And Wandy, if you'll do me the honor wait! Where are you going? Wandy? Wait, come back. (Pause) This is awkward. (Pause) Hey, uh, anybody wanna buy a ring, cheap?
Alcides Escobar, SS, Brewers: He had 176 steals in six minor league seasons, a .293 average over that time and impressed in 38 games last year. He's gonna be a lot better than Rafael Furcal, but he's going two rounds later.
Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks: An obvious name, but I'm listing him here because he's a first-round talent going in the late second. You know his crazy stats from last year, but most may not realize he played only 138 games. He also hasn't even turned 23 yet. Another year in the bigs, an additional 20 games or so to last year's total and it's the last time you get him outside the top 10. I'm not sure he hits .300 again, but a 35/25 season while hitting .285 is very doable.
Mark Reynolds, 3B, Diamondbacks: This is what I wrote about Reynolds in last year's version of this column:
He's never gonna help your average, but he's only 25 and this is his third year in the majors. In his second year at Double-A (he didn't play Triple-A) he went from .272 to .306. Now sure, he went down from Year 1 to Year 2, but maybe it takes longer. I actually think less playing time will help Reynolds, and I expect improvement to the .250-.260 range. Considering that he basically went 30 and 100 last year with 11 stolen bases, I like him a lot more than what it will cost to get him.
He exceeded even my most optimistic expectation, obviously, but I hear many people say they think he was a fluke last year. He wasn't. The free-swinging remains a concern, but if I believed in him last year, you know I'm on board this season.
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies: You either think he's overrated or you realize that he was hurt in the first half of 2008. If you've listened to the podcast the past few years, you know I drink his bathwater. (Which, in case you don't listen to the podcast, is a figure of speech. As far as you know.) After Hanley, there's no shortstop I'd rather have.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies: I've gotten the tattoo, registered the domain name, knocked someone up just to name the kid after him.
Jorge De La Rosa, P, Rockies: Talked about him and Ubaldo Jimenez a lot last year as sleepers. You know about Ubaldo, and De La Rosa is due for a similar step up to the next level. He needs to cut down on the walks a little more, but with better than a strikeout per inning and the fact that his WHIP has gone down for three straight seasons make me say Hip Hip Jorge. (What? Posada's not gonna use it anymore. Wait till you get to "hate." See what I did there? Them fancy writers call that "foreshadowing.")
Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers: Who gets him in the divorce? Does it matter? Dude hit .290 with 19 home runs last year and missed 50 games due to, ahem, "Manny being Clemens." Or Being A Roid. Or Pettitte. Pick your cheater (I always choose Yankees) but the point remains the same: He can still hit. Maybe not at elite levels, but much like Vlad, forget about him as a top-20 guy. Just note that he still has some production left. Do I think he has an amazing year in him? No. Do I think he will miss time this year? Sure. But will I take 25 home runs and a high average with potential for more in the ninth round, which is where he is going? All day long.
Kyle Blanks, OF, Padres: Hit a home run every 14.8 at-bats last year in 54 games. To give you a comparison, Albert Pujols hits one every 12.1 at bats. Had he had enough at-bats to qualify, that number would have been tied for 11th in baseball, alongside Jason Bay and Alex Rodriguez. People may think he's a free swinger, but he's a career .304 hitter in the minors and he did have a .355 big league on-base percentage last year. Love him this year. In fact, screw you, Wandy. Kyle, listen, you're very special to me and I was wondering if wait! Now where are you going? Hey, I didn't finish! (Calling after him) You know I can catch up to you, right? (Pause) OK, this is really starting to get awkward.
Players I Love for AL-only leagues
Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara, Ps, Orioles: Mike Gonzalez is no sure thing, from a health or even converting-saves standpoint. Enter these two for a team that won't be blowing a lot of teams out of the water. Johnson had 10 semi-ugly saves last year after George Sherrill got dealt and Uehara, believe it or not, had 32 saves in 2007 for the Yomiuri Giants. Both should be solid in the bullpen for Baltimore and I wouldn't be surprised to see either guy get a shot at saves at some point this year.
Felix Pie, OF, Orioles: Mmmm, Pie. He had so much hype as a young pastry it seems like he's been around forever, and in that time we've learned both how to pronounce his last name and that he's terrible. But hold on there, Twinkie the Kid. While I love Nolan Reimold and Adam Jones, neither are ironmen. Pie just turned 25 and last year, thanks to injury, actually started playing full-time on July 22. From that time until the end of the season, he had seven home runs, 21 RBIs and 23 runs in 145 at-bats while hitting .290. My guess is he gets at least 300 at-bats and is very much worth a flier or the extra buck at the end of your AL-only auction.
Brett Gardner, OF, Yankees: With 26 steals in just 284 plate appearances last year, the question is not his speed, but whether he can get on the field. The people who question that have never owned Randy Winn, Nick Swisher or Nick Johnson.
Matt Joyce, OF, Rays: If you're looking for some cheap power, here's a guy I've always liked. Plus, when he hits one out, you can pump your fist in the air. And then you can text your leaguemates and say, "You know what I'm doing? I'm Re-Joyce-ing!" Trust me, the only thing more annoying than getting smack talk is smack filled with terrible puns.
Brett Wallace, 3B, Blue Jays: Hit .293 with 20 home runs and 63 RBIs in three minor league stops last season, he's been a major part of the Matt Holliday and Roy Halladay trades and he's just 22. I don't think he'll hit for average initially but I do think he'll play. His competition for playing time is the murderer's row of Lyle Overbay, Edwin Encarnacion and 32-year-old DH Randy Ruiz. At least that's what I imagine new Baseball Tonighter J.P. Ricciardi likes to collectively refer to them.
Marc Rzepczynski, SP, Blue Jays: Sometimes it's the strikeouts-per-9 rate, almost nine, and sometimes it's just to show off I can spell his name.
Matt Thornton, RP, White Sox: Dude had a K/9 north of 10 last season, great ERA and WHIP and only has Bobby Jenks in front of him. We will discuss Jenks in the "Hate" section. See? More foreshadowing. Someone get me a tweed sport coat with suede elbow patches. I got me an English class to teach!
Chris Perez, RP, Indians: He has 60 career saves in four minor league seasons, he's 24, he had a K/9 over 10 last year and, after the trade deadline, he'll still be on the Indians. Kerry Wood? Not so much.
Scott Sizemore, 2B, Tigers: More from our "Sleepers and Busts" column: "I'm not a huge rookie guy, generally, and the ankle injury suffered during the AFL isn't helping. But in an interview on the team's official site, Sizemore says he'll be ready for spring training and Jim Leyland said it's his job to lose and that he will stick with the rookie. He's 25 years old and had a great year last year in the minors, hitting .308 with 17 home runs, 66 RBIs and 21 steals in 520 at-bats in Double-A and Triple-A combined. I don't expect the average to maintain but I do think he will have double-digit home run and steals at the end of the year. He's the reason Detroit let Placido Polanco go and in the very late rounds, he is very much worth a flier.
Luke Hochevar, SP, Royals: Solid K/9 and K/BB rates last season, the former No. 1 pick is worth a gamble at the end. And don't forget about Gil Meche, who is healthy again and is better than you remember. Sometimes said about me.
Brian Duensing, P, Twins: After becoming a starter last year, he went 5-1 with a 2.73 ERA in nine starts with 33 strikouts and only 15 walks in 52 2/3 innings. Wish he struck out a few more guys and as of this writing, he's not expected to be in the rotation. But he can pitch and in a deep AL-only league, I'm willing to stash him on reserve and assume one of the Twins' brittle starters will go down sooner rather than later. (Crosses fingers) Pavano, Pavano, come on Pavano.
Jake Fox, 3B, A's: He qualifies at third base, he can rake, and you don't actually have to watch him play defense.
Ryan Raburn, OF, Tigers: Another guy I have always liked, he had 16 home runs and 45 RBIs in just 261 at-bats last year. Currently without a position, he can play all over the field, and with guys like Johnny Damon, Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez and the yet-to-prove-he-can-hit-major-league-pitching Austin Jackson out there for Detroit, I bet Raburn gets at least 350 at-bats.
Players I Love for NL-only leagues
Troy Glaus, 3B, Braves: Third base is shallow this year, and he qualifies there. It's a demanding position. He won't actually play there -- he'll be at first base. He's only one year removed from a .270/27/99 season. And you can get him 24 rounds away from the first.
Cameron Maybin, OF, Marlins: May-bin? Definite-bin! (Pause) Move along. Nothing to see here. All right, keep moving. Here we go.
John Maine, SP, Mets: Just so you know, every single underlying number says stay far, far away. So this is totally a gut call. He's on a one-year deal and, as he told MLB.com, he's finally 100 percent healthy. Great ballpark, one-year deal, something to prove and he's had success before. Besides, it's the Mets. They never get injured, right?
Placido Polanco, 2B, Phillies: A career .303 hitter will have third base eligibility three weeks into a season in which he will hit between a few guys named Rollins, Utley and Howard. Lotta runs scored and a high average.
Ryan Theriot, SS, Cubs: Always underrated, he is 80 runs and 20 steals in the bank, with a solid average.
Homer Bailey, SP, Reds: See fellow suspect Harden, Rich.
Corey Hart, OF, Brewers: He was a 20/20 guy for two straight years until injuries limited him last year to just 115 games. His power has been trending downward, which is a bit concerning, but other underlying numbers, like ground balls to fly balls, stayed the same and, in fact, he improved his on-base percentage. You can make arguments either way, but news that he is getting goggles to correct an eyesight problem outweighs all the hacky "Sunglasses at Night" references we're gonna be forced to endure again. Just 28, he's going in the 23rd round and he'll play every day.
Lastings Milledge, OF, Pirates: We've been talking about him forever but keep in mind he's only 24 and has been hurt. He's in an organization that has very little going for it (another cut to Pittsburgh: "Seriously! What'd we do to you?") and needs him to succeed. That means double-digit steals and home runs with a good average and upside for more.
Brad Penny, SP, Cardinals: In Dave Duncan I trust. Remember, Penny had a 2.59 ERA in six starts last year for San Francisco. He can work in the NL. Speaking of Duncan, incidentally, if you want a really deep flier, Rich Hill is in St. Louis this year, too.
Everth Cabrera, SS, Padres: So fast, by the time you ask him what in the blue blazes his name means, he's gone.
Padres pitching: We all know happiness is your starting pitcher in Petco, but just wanna give a special shout-out to Mat Latos (K/9 of almost 7 last year), Clayton Richard (who was ridiculous at home) and reliever Mike Adams, who will be the closer if they deal Heath Bell at the deadline.
Scott Hairston, OF, Padres: In 110 games at Petco, he has 19 home runs, eight steals and a .285 average and is just a guy I've always liked, in a deep, NL-only kind of way. And you know? I kind of like you in an NL kind of way.
2010 Players I Hate:
Nick Markakis, OF, Orioles: If we were to elect a poster boy for the idea of fantasy kryptonite, can I nominate Nick? People go nuts for this guy and I've never totally gotten it. As I've written before, from 18 to 10 to 6, his steals are heading in the wrong direction. Which leaves us with what? A guy who will hit some 20 home runs, 90 or so RBIs, 90 or so runs with a very nice .290 average. Is that good? Sure. Very solid. But worth reaching for in the fifth? No, not when guys like Torii Hunter are going in the 10th. (See what I did there? That's a thematic call-back. Now, what type of pipe do you suppose I should get? Briar or corncob?)
Kevin Millwood, SP, Orioles: Heard of a win-win? Away from Mike Maddux and into the AL East, it's a loss-loss. Last year, Millwood was the mayor of Fluke City, and I have no interest in visiting there.
Mike Cameron, OF, Red Sox: We put up with the average because of the speed. Now that's gone. Being on the Red Sox will get some people excited. Some people are wrong.
J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox: Because I am a slave to tradition. Oh, and speaking of that
Big Fat Bartolo Colon, your local softball team: Phew. Much better now.
John Lackey, P, Red Sox: This one kills me. Because as an Angels fan, I loved Lackey. But moving to the AL East from the AL West is not great, nor is his career 5.75 ERA in nine Fenway starts. That's a small sample size, and he won't be facing the Red Sox, you say. Fair enough. Because here's the thing that really makes me nervous: He's missed time due to injury each of the past two years and since 2003 (his first full season), there are only 11 pitchers who have thrown more innings than him. Here are those 11, in order: Mark Buehrle, Livan Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Javier Vazquez, Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, Barry Zito, Jon Garland, Carlos Zambrano, Derek Lowe, Roy Oswalt.
Of that list, only Halladay and Sabathia are still at the same level they've always been. Everyone else has seen a decline from whatever level they were at. And maybe Lackey bucks the odds and stays as one of the elite guys in the league. But the rumors were that the Angels didn't want to give him the long-term deal because of fear of injury, and I'm not blaming them. Rather jump off the bandwagon a year too early than a year too late, you know?
A.J. Burnett, P, Yankees: His K/9 went down, his BB/9 went up and for the second straight year he had an ERA over 4.00. He pitched much better with Jose Molina (.221 batting average against) than Jorge Posada (.270 BAA). Molina is now on the Blue Jays. Hope they start Francisco Cervelli when he starts (.204 BAA in two starts) or better yet, let someone else pay top-25 prices for a top-35 pitcher, at best.
Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays: My favorite stat from last year: In July, Wells had 85 at-bats. And three RBIs. The people who say Vernon Wells doesn't suck have never owned Vernon Wells.
Bobby Jenks, P, White Sox: An ERA of almost 4 last year, he tied a career high with six blown saves and gave up nine home runs (previous two years combined: five). I've heard the same reports you have about losing 30 pounds in the offseason. Blah blah blah. Getting it off and keeping it off are two different things. Learned that the hard way on many a date. And it remains to be seen how it affects him. He was pretty good as a fatty. Wonder if LenDale White regrets all his weight loss? Anyways, this is why I love Matt Thornton.
Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians: Having met him at our fantasy baseball commercial last year, I can tell you he's a really nice guy. Having owned him before, I can tell you he is a power/speed guy. Having written almost 6,000 words at this point, I can tell you that speed and power is in more supply than ever this year, and that Sizemore is a career .275 hitter who is coming off major surgery and has had his batting average go down for three straight seasons. He's going 25 picks ahead of a guy like Curtis Granderson, who will put up similar numbers with less risk and much more upside.
Johnny Damon, OF, Tigers: Just because the Tigers paid for a career year doesn't mean you should.
Delmon Young, OF, Twins: See Drew, J.D.
Carl Pavano, P, Twins: What has your ERA ever done to you?
Jered Weaver, P, Angels: Gives up too many home runs for me (career high in HR/9 last season), got a little lucky last year he's fine, I just don't think he's a No. 1 pitcher. In real life or fantasy.
Joe Saunders, P, Angels: You can't accuse me of being a homer. Oooh, speaking of homers, I think he just gave up another one.
Chone Figgins, 3B, Mariners: So, my editor and friend Pierre Becquey said to me, "Who are you?" As the guy who has been reading and editing me for years, he was shocked when I announced I was no longer Wiggy for Figgy.
Speaking of Pierre, he's planning to add statistical benchmark information to the draft kit this week, basically, the totals you need in each category to win them based on average ESPN standard 5x5 leagues last year. I'll give you a quick preview: You need about 100 more home runs to win that category than you do steals and your team needs to hit .279 just to finish middle of the pack in average. With that in mind, consider these two facts:
Last year, there were 25 different outfielders who stole at least 20 bases. All of them hit at least .279.
There were only 15 outfielders who hit at least 20 home runs that also hit at least .279.
I'll always root for Figgins, one of my favorite players. But as we've discussed on the podcast, this year you can't avoid speed in the outfield. In a standard ESPN 10-team league, you play five outfielders each. So you go at least 50 outfielders deep. Well, 55 outfielders stole at least 10 bases last year. In other words, you're gonna have to work really hard to have an outfield that won't steal a decent amount of bases, and you're gonna have to risk some batting average to do it.
You need to get power from the corners this year. And considering how thin third base is to begin with, Figgins (career batting average at Safeco: .266), just doesn't make sense for where you'll need to draft him.
Michael Young, 3B, Rangers: Heck of a bounce-back year for Young. Won't happen again.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers: As I've written and said before, he's awesome when healthy. We are not arguing that. But he's played more than 130 games exactly once in a four-year major league career (and one year he had 130) and to get Kinsler, you are gonna have to take him in the second round. First, in AL-only. Considering his .253 bating average last year (I know, his BABIP was really low, but still), he's too much of a risk for me that high up. Keep in mind he's a career .279 hitter, so even if he stays healthy and his luck reverts back a bit, a 25/25/.275 season is reasonable to expect, right? Which is basically what Brandon Phillips gives you two rounds later, without nearly as much risk.
Gary Matthews Jr., OF, Mets: On behalf of all Angels fans. And all his former fantasy owners. And his dad.
Jason Bay, OF, Mets: I tend not to like a guy changing leagues, he's a career .269 hitter versus the NL East (over 600 at bats) and you expect the power to be somewhat sapped due to Citi Field. According to Katron.org's balls-in-play location data, 12 of the 15 home runs he hit at Fenway last season would have been outs at Citi. He hasn't stolen more than 13 bases since 2005 and at age 31, not sure I see that changing. I don't know. Most of the numbers you read will tell you he's gonna be fine and I won't argue with that other than to say, call it a gut feeling or whatever you want, there's just a lot of other guys I'd rather have in Round 5.
Marlon Byrd, OF, Cubs: See Young, Michael.
Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers: Ow.
Buster Posey, C, Giants: Learn something from Matt Wieters. Buster will be very good one day, but there's a reason they signed Bengie Molina. Not sure when gets to the majors and don't think he'll be that effective at the start when he does. Not worth stashing except in keeper leagues.
And that's all I got. As we get into the season, remember me and my father-in-law , sitting at Yankee Stadium, a deluge of overpriced concession items raining down. Go easy on your players that start slow and on yourself. Remember that evaluating players is all shades of gray, as is life. That nothing happens in a vacuum, nothing is absolute and Yankees fans are subhuman.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- actually knows and likes some Yankees fans. He just won't admit it. He is also the creator of RotoPass.com, a Web site that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his Cyberfriend