Are Baseball Executives Really That Much Smarter?

Pelfrey

Having satellite radio in your car is dream come true for avid baseball fans. Not only is the MLB Channel available to you 24 hours a day, those of us who participate in Fantasy Sports also have a channel devoted to our hobby. However, there is an additional perk and that is having multiple channels broadcasting the play-by-play of major league games.

 

These broadcasts are not any kind of a national feed, they are the announcers from one of the teams playing the game…usually the home team. Admittedly, I consider myself spoiled, having spent most of my baseball life listening to the likes of Curt Gowdy, Vin Scully & Dick Enberg on the radio. They were the cream of the crop and have never been described as “Homers”. That’s not to say today’s broadcasters aren’t talented, but rooting for the home team is an accepted practice, especially considering that their paycheck has the team logo imprinted next to the dollar figure.

 

While listening to a Tigers broadcast last week, the two announcers in the booth were talking about Pitcher Mike Pelfrey and that he will be getting back on track as soon as he starts commanding his sinker. They also said he was a really hard worker and a great guy in the clubhouse. This type of banter always reminds me why so many of us play Fantasy Baseball…because we think we’re smarter than real-world baseball executives.

 

Mike Pelfrey may in fact be a great guy, but he’s a lousy major-league pitcher. He’s pitched for parts of ten seasons in the big leagues and had a lifetime record of 61-81 going into 2016. If you believe that his record was tied to bad luck, his lifetime ERA was 4.52. The last time he had a decent season (15-9) was 2010! Despite these numbers, the Tigers signed him to a two-year contract this past off-season for $16 Million.

 

Fantasy players have been avoiding Pelfrey for years. The Fantasy magazine that includes my contributions each season didn’t even give him a positive dollar value. At the Draft of my AL-only league (which is very deep), he wasn’t even drafted! Yet, the Tigers were counting on him as part of their rotation. So far, in six starts, he is 0-4 with a 6.23 ERA and a 1.95 WHIP. And, there are no silver linings in the peripheral numbers of 15 K’s & 15 BB in 30 innings.

 

During the same week, Orioles GM Dan Duquette was being interviewed on the Fantasy Channel and the subject was Yovani Gallardo, who is on the DL after four starts with a 7.00 ERA. The GM indicated that the injury wasn’t anything serious and was probably due to Gallardo signing late and trying to ramp up for the season. Well, the reason he signed late is because nobody seemed to want him and even the Orioles withdrew their initial offer due to concerns about his arm. Eventually, they lowered their offer to “only” $22 Million for two years. Here’s what I wrote about Gallardo last November (published in February)…”Turned down a $15.8 Million qualifying offer because some team will give him even more…don’t let it be yours. His 2015 numbers were smoke & mirrors…struck out 200+ from 2009-2012, but only 121 last season. His soft contact rate (15.4%) was in the worst 20 of starting pitchers”. Two other contributors to the magazine also “panned” him and there were no positive comments. His Fantasy value was listed as $3. The Orioles were also guilty of giving a 4-year, $50 Million deal to Ubaldo Jimenez in 2014 and through 63 starts. he’s 20-22 with a 4.41 ERA. Even Theo Epstein, the architect of the Cubs current resurgence, signed Edwin Jackson to a 4-year, $50 Million deal in 2013. In three seasons, Jackson had a record of 16-34 with a 5.36 ERA and this year, the Cubs are paying him $12.5 Million to pitch for another team. No Fantasy player worth their salt ever went near this player.

 

You can certainly accuse me of “cherry-picking” and I make my share of mistakes…Derek Holland’s 11 earned run outing last week was part of my AL-only team’s stats. However, sometimes this stuff seems so obvious to those of us who study the numbers that we’re always amazed when front-office executives make questionable contract decisions.

 

Time to get back to the radio…”Put it on the board, YES!”

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Priceless Passion

 

Over the years, many individuals have questioned my unbridled enthusiasm for all things baseball…live games, televised games, movies, cards & collectibles, statistical analysis and, of course, Fantasy Baseball. I’ve always been understanding of their skepticism because, after all, it takes a certain level of intelligence to really appreciate the game. The strange part is that most of these people probably have a love of something in their life that doesn’t really relate to their day-to-day existence. It might be stamps, comic books, salt & pepper shakers, art objects, model trains, holiday ornaments (remember Clark Griswold), coins or one of a myriad of other things.

 

Someone much smarter than me once said, “Life is more worthwhile when you can be passionate about something trivial”. I firmly believe that to be true and my relationship with baseball has brought countless wonderful memories, but it has also helped me through some very difficult times. Recall what James Earl Jones’ character said in Field Of Dreams, “The one constant throughout the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s part of our past. It reminds us of all that was once good and could be again”.

 

So, today’s visit is for all of you who know the “secret handshake” or the “password” and understand how I feel about baseball. One of the really remarkable things about buying and selling baseball card collections isn’t the profit (it’s more of a hobby than a business), it’s watching history go through your hands. In the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of helping clients with a collection of 100 year-old tobacco cards that included the likes of Walter Johnson & Christy Mathewson. Just recently, I assisted a friend with his collection that had a Jackie Robinson Rookie Card from 1948. You can’t imagine the feeling of having such history in your hands. Imagine a history buff getting the opportunity to hold a copy of the Gettysburg address.

 

This wonderful experience has unfolded once again over the last two weeks as I review an extremely valuable sports card collection that my partner and I purchased. The cornerstones of the group are high-end basketball cards including autographs of Michael Jordan, LeBron James & Kobe Bryant. The baseball card portion, however, is also very impressive including a 1956 Topps Mickey Mantle card (his Triple Crown season). Not to sound braggadocios, but because I already own a ’56 Mantle in my personal collection, some of the other cards have really caught my eye. Let’s look at the history imbedded in just one card to give you some insight into my passion.

 

In 2005, the Upper Deck Company produced a set of cards themed to baseball’s Hall of Fame. One of the subsets was designated as “Signs Of Cooperstown” and included autographs from HOF members. Card #DFY was a tribute to three Red Sox legends and includes the signatures of Bobby Doerr, Carlton Fisk & Carl Yastrzemski. Only 20 copies of this particular card were manufactured, so it is not only beautiful, it is also scarce.

 

Bobby Doerr was the 2B of the BoSox from 1937-1951 (missing 1945 serving in the military) and had a lifetime BA of .288 with a .823 OPS. He was an outstanding defensive infielder and made the AL All-Star team ten times. He was inducted into the Hall in 1986 and is the oldest living member, having turned 98 last month. He was also best friends with Ted Williams.

 

Carlton “Pudge” Fisk is known for that iconic moment in the 1975 World Series when he willed a Home Run fair to win Game 6 in extra innings. He was a Catcher in the big leagues for 24 seasons with the Red Sox (#27) and the White Sox (#72) and was welcomed into Cooperstown in 2000.

 

Carl Yastrzemski had the unenviable task of following Ted Williams as the Red Sox LF in 1961 but the pressure never impacted him. In 23 seasons in Fenway Park, he represented the Sox in 18 All-Star Games (15 of them consecutively from 1965-1979) and won the Triple Crown in 1967. Just for good measure, he also won seven Gold Gloves. Inducted in the Hall in 1989, “Yaz” is one the popular players in franchise history.

 

What, you ask, is a card like this worth? Well, to a baseball fan on eBay, it was worth $200. To me, it was priceless.

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Not Your Dad’s Topps Cards Anymore

How old were you when you opened your first pack of baseball cards? For me, it was probably about the age of seven when Topps baseball cards were a nickel…and came with a stick of bubblegum! For boys of my generation, the beautiful fragrance of that gum is something that has stayed with us over the years and would be recognizable even if we were blindfolded.

 

The wonderful magic of collecting is that the thrill of opening those packs to see if we got Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle is not any different today when we look for Mike Trout or Bryce Harper to appear from beneath the wrapper. Of course, the packs are no longer a nickel (and there is no gum) but for a baseball fan, the thrill remains the same.

 

Topps had a monopoly on baseball cards from 1956-80, but then the landscape changed dramatically. Other companies were given MLB licenses and the competitive environment almost ruined the hobby as too many product offerings and too much supply turned fans away from collecting. Out of necessity, the card manufacturers began re-inventing their products in the late 90’s with the advent of higher-priced “premium” items that included autographed cards as well as memorabilia cards (pieces of uniform or bat) and limited edition issues. Today, we have come full circle, with MLB limiting the licenses they issue and Topps once again being the major producer of cards. For fans and collectors, the hobby is still great fun and continues to bring enjoyment to young and old alike.

 

So, for someone who hasn’t collected in years, what do these new, upscale products offer? Recently, a friend of mine purchased some sealed boxes of 2016 Topps Museum Collection baseball cards. One box costs almost $200 and includes 20 cards (4 packs of 5 cards) and you are guaranteed to get at least one “hit” per pack. That hit could be an autographed card or a autograph / relic combo card or a jumbo relic (patch) card or a quad relic (memorabilia from four different players). Each of these cards has a limited print run and the number is stamped on the card so the buyer understands the scarcity of their new collectible Let’s see how this collector made out…

 

> Of the four signed cards pulled from the packs, the most valuable is a beautiful “Signature Swatch” card of the Mets young star Michael Conforto. It not only has the autograph, but also includes three uniform pieces and only five of these were produced…this one is numbered 5/5, making it the last one manufactured. There’s also a “Signature Swatch” of D’Backs Closer Brad Ziegler numbered to 25, as well as a combo game-used material and autograph of the Mariners SS Ketel Marte…that one is also limited to a run of five. The final one is a metal card signed by the Mets 3B David Wright numbered to only 15.

 

> The relic (uniform jersey) cards are numbered anywhere from 99 down to 10. The two lowest are of Mariners star Robinson Cano (02/10) and Athletics Catcher Stephen Vogt (01/10) and then there’s a multi-piece card numbered to 25 of Pirates All-Star Andrew McCutchen. There are future Hall of Famers like Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki along with a HOF member from the past, Orlando Cepeda.

 

> The quad relic cards are especially great for fans of a certain team. This group has the Royals (Gordon, Holland, Hosmer & Ventura), the Tigers (Cabrera, Verlander, Kinsler & Castellanos) and the Dodgers (Kershaw, Greinke, Gonzalez & Puig)…each of these is numbered to 99 or less.

 

Oh sure, you can still buy “regular” baseball cards but having options is always nice. No, they’re not your Dad’s Topps cards anymore.

 

 

 

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Panic In April

For Fantasy Baseball players, April can be an excruciating month. All that research you’ve done since last October is no longer just analysis, it is reality. As many pundits have reminded us, being impacted by a “small sample size” is a fool’s game but when players you counted on have already started to let you down, emotions often trump logic (my apologies for using the words “trump” and “logic” in the same sentence).

 

In November, the Old Duck wrote some “Picks n’ Pans” for The Fantasy Baseball Guide – Professional Edition that were published around the start of Spring Training. As I look at the standings in my four leagues (1st, 2nd, 10th & 2nd), how are my predictions doing in the early going? And, in some cases, was I smart or dumb to not take my own advice from four months earlier?

 

> Matt Adams, Cardinals 1B – In November, I thought 2016 might be a comeback season for him, but by April he didn’t appear to have a steady job and I threw him back at $12 in a NL-only league. He still went for $14 at the table but, so far, he’s only had 27 AB’s.

 

> Trevor Bauer, Indians P – My feeling was that this former top prospect was ready to take the next step, but Cleveland’s brass decided he isn’t as good as Josh Tomlin or Cody Anderson. The team that kept him at $10 in my AL-only league before that decision was made is surely disappointed with him only pitching eight (8) innings so far this season.

 

> Zach Britton, Orioles P – My thought that he was significantly under-rated and should be in the upper tier of Closers. Now, he’s on two of my teams and has four Saves with only one run allowed in seven appearances.

 

> Jay Bruce, Reds OF – I panned him due to his inability to adjust to defensive shifting. His big first week raised his draft table price to $23 but it may just be a mirage.

 

> Nick Castellanos, Tigers 3B – A break-out pick of mine, he’s hitting .347.

 

> Patrick Corbin, D’Backs P – I liked the way that AZ brought him back slowly in ’15 and his ’16 performance looks great with three solid starts and a 2.75 ERA.

 

> Ian Desmond, Rangers SS/OF – Here’s where all your instincts can go awry. I panned him in November and then watched him up-close as he looked terrible in March. However, at a certain point in my AL-only Draft, he was the only MI left with any hope of getting SB’s. So, I paid an exorbitant price and he’s now hitting .158. Yes, there are smart ducks and dumb ducks.

 

> Yovani Gallardo, Orioles P – I felt that his ’15 was mostly luck and that some poor team (in reality & fantasy) would be sorry for signing him. His April ERA is 5.62.

 

> Jason Hammel & Kyle Hendricks, Cubs P – Despite numerous opinions to the contrary, I liked both of these guys. So far, in six starts, they’ve combined for a 2.50 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.

 

> Joe Mauer, Twins 1B – Didn’t give him much hope of regaining past glory, but as a fan, I’m happy to see him hitting .339.

 

> A.J. Ramos, Marlins P – Really liked his numbers and was surprised that the Fish considered taking out of the Closer role before Carter Capps got hurt. Hasn’t allowed an earned run in April.

 

> Jean Segura, D’Backs 2B – Panned him based on two consecutive lousy years in Milwaukee. He’s only hitting .338 with three (3) HR’s and three (3) SB’s.

 

> Eugenio Suarez, Reds SS/3B – Said in November that his numbers could be as good as Troy Tulowitski’s in 2016. So far, his OPS is .833 and Tulo’s is .545.

 

Hang in there buddy, it’s just a small sample size.

 

Mauer

The Littlefield Effect – 2016

John Littlefield is now 62 years of age, but his name still resonates with baseball card collectors and Rotisserie League Baseball team owners. He only spent two seasons in the major leagues but what wouldn’t the rest of us give to always be known as “a former big league Pitcher”?

 

The baseball card connection is easy to explain, as Littlefield played in the early 80’s when the card industry exploded with new manufacturers. The Topps company had a virtual monopoly on baseball cards from 1956 – 1980 but in 1981, licenses were given to both Donruss & Fleer and despite the competition, all three companies were guilty of less-than acceptable quality control of their products. There were numerous examples all through the 1980’s of mistakes, misprints, corrections and embarrassments. The most infamous incident involved the now legendary 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken card that was distributed with a picture of the player holding a bat that had an obscenity written on the bottom of the barrel. Fleer tried to correct the card quickly but never really got it right, producing a total of five different variations.

 

Littlefield’s card legacy was early in the cycle, as his 1982 Fleer card was originally distributed with a reverse negative of the picture, turning the 27 year-old right-hander into a southpaw. Fleer corrected the card, thus making the original a very scarce item. Even today, the corrected version is a “common” card worth about a nickel, while the difficult-to-find “error” card will set you back about $45.

 

Littlefield’s enduring legacy to Fantasy Baseball comes from the original 1984 “Rotisserie League Baseball” book that started this amazing hobby played by millions of fans. As the founding fathers of the game had actually started playing a form of the game in 1981, they shared many stories of the fun, camaraderie and strategy they had experienced in those early years. A segment of the book talked about “The Littlefield Effect”, an interesting factor that impacted the value of players at their first few Drafts. While the early 80’s isn’t really that long ago, it was long before the digital age of affordable PC’s, the Internet and instant information. The Roto inventors decided that the best time to have the player Draft was on the weekend following opening day in order to have reasonably valid information about the official MLB 25-man rosters. After all, stats were only published weekly in the USA Today and league standings were always at least a week behind the actual games.

 

The timing of the Draft, however, led to 4-5 games being played prior to the auction / player selection and box scores were readily available in daily newspapers. Could a few games really have a major impact on the value of a player in a 162 game season? John Littlefield answered that question in 1981. In 1980, he had a very productive rookie campaign with the Cardinals, appearing in 52 games with a 3.14 ERA, 5 Wins & 9 Saves. In December, the Cards made an 11-player trade with the Padres and Littlefield headed west. To say that the ’81 Padres were terrible would be a compliment. In the strike-interrupted 110 game season, they went 41-69 and the entire team only hit 32 home runs. Ozzie Smith was the Shortstop and despite leading the NL in At-Bats, he hit .222 with 0 HR’s & 22 RBI’s.

 

The Padres opened the year in San Francisco and Littlefield saved the 4-1, 12-inning win. The next day, he registered another Save in a 4-2 victory. So, by the time the Rotisserie owners showed up for the Draft, it seemed logical that the Padres had anointed him as their Closer. With Saves being one of only four statistical pitching categories in the standings, his auction price ended up being $34, equal to 13% of the total 23-player budget of the winning bidder. As you might guess, the remainder of the 1981 season was very forgettable for Littlefield, as he suffered 2 losses and a blown Save later in April and was replaced as the Closer by a Pitcher named Gary Lucas. He pitched in 14 games at AAA Syracuse in 1982 with an ERA of 7.49 and his career was over at age 28.

 

For those of us who still play “old-school” Rotisserie Baseball and draft our teams on the Saturday following opening day, we also have memorable “effects” of our own. One of the classics was in 1994, when a Cubs outfielder named Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes hit 3 Home Runs on opening day. Even though he had never played more than 50 games in any major-league season, his price on Draft day was $22. He ended up with 8 HR’s for the season and never hit another one in his career.

 

This past weekend, we gathered for the 33rd annual Draft of our original Rotisserie league from 1984 and the Littlefield effect was still floating around the room. Using projections from a highly-respected Fantasy site, let’s see how things played out at the table. As this is a keeper league, we’ll assume that there could be an inflation factor of 20% added to the 4 x 4 projections.

 

> The most obvious example for 2016 is Trevor Story, the Rockies opening day SS. Only on the roster thanks to Jose Reyes’ attempt to go a few rounds with the spouse, Story hit 6 HR’s in the four games leading up to the Draft. Consequently, his $5 season-long projection turned into a $22 price tag at the table.

 

> The Dodgers new Japanese import Kenta Maeda pitched reasonably well in Spring Training but still had no track record in American professional baseball. Due to that uncertainty, his projection was in the neighborhood of $7. However, after pitching six shutout innings in a Win on 4/6, the Draft table price ended up at $19.

 

> Injuries also factor into this equation, as the DL trip of Ben Revere opened up playing time for Michael Taylor in the Nationals OF. Even with Revere’s time off in the calculation, Taylor’s projection was still only around $13. However, with speed & power in his arsenal along with the late timing of his nomination at the table, the final winning bid was $26.

 

> Denard Span is a good ballplayer, but injuries had derailed his performance last season and he is 32 years old. A HR, 6 RBI’s and a SB in the first week increased his value from $20 to $28.

 

> Jay Bruce has been horrible the last two seasons primarily due to his inability in adjusting to the shift. This Spring, he was rumored to be traded to the AL and the Reds are definitely in the re-building phase. Two HR’s and 5 RBI’s on April 7th buoyed  his projection of $18 to a winning bid of $23.

 

> The last two seasons in Milwaukee, Jean Segura had OPS figures of .614 & .616. A fresh start in Arizona and a first week including 3 HR’s & 2 SB’s gave his $19 projection a boost to $27.

 

> The effect also can work in the opposite direction. Starting Pitchers who have a bad outing prior to the Draft often go for reduced prices. An example is Andrew Cashner only costing $5.

 

> While “newbies” to the Roto game might think that we are dinosaurs, don’t forget that the timing also allows us to know who has the job on opening day. And the teams that were influenced by box scores may have to deal with the consequences as the seasons rolls on.

 

The good news for all of us is that whenever you hold your Draft, it’s your favorite day of the year.Story

Legal Supplements

How would you like to be invited to participate in the most unique Fantasy Baseball league in the industry? Looking back to 2002, the Old Duck was thrilled to be part of the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL), the vision of Ron Shandler and the first industry keeper league. Some of the most respected pundits and players of the game were kind enough to invite three “challengers” to be included as part of the 12-team group. As one of these home-league players, I was nervous and excited to sit down at the draft table that November and test my skills against the best.

 

As we enter our 14th season, it has been a great ride for this lifetime baseball fan. We’ve expanded to 15 teams and the camaraderie established over the years has led to genuine friendships with a great group of guys. And, to my surprise, the Quacker has turned out to be a decent player with championships in 2005, 2009, 2011 & 2012.

 

The XFL is a 5×5 keeper league (with OBP instead of BA) that has an auction budget of $260 for 23 players. We conduct the draft only a month after the baseball season ends and no research (or computers) are allowed at the table. Utilizing just MLB depth charts handed out prior to the first player being nominated, it is a test of your player-pool knowledge and prognostication. There is a significantly high inflation factor because many of the players on the keeper lists have salaries much lower than their projected values. Here’s the roster of Donald’s Dux following the draft…

 

C – Francisco Cervelli $6 (K)

C – Devin Mesoraco $11 (K)

1B – Anthony Rizzo $23 (K)

3B – Matt Duffy $10 (K)

1/3 – Jose Abreu $7 (K)

2B – Cesar Hernandez $2 (D)

SS – Brandon Crawford $6 (K)

2/S – Eugenio Suarez $10 (K)

OF – Yasiel Puig $10 (K)

OF – Andrew McCutchen $22 (K)

OF – Odubel Herrera $11 (D)

OF – Ben Revere $18 (D)

OF – Colby Rasmus $6 (K)

U – Michael Brantley $17 (K)

P – Francisco Liriano $18 (D)

P – Zach Britton $15 (D)

P – Jacob DeGrom $15(K)

P – Jeff Samardzija $11 (D)

P – James Shields $15 (D)

P – John Lackey $8 (D)

P – Jason Hammel $5 (D)

P – Jerad Eickhoff $1 (D)

P – A.J Ramos $11 (D)

 

To lend some insight into the keeper salaries, players drafted in the auction have their salary increase $5 each season. So, for example, Cervelli was drafted for $1 the previous year. Any player who qualifies as a rookie has his salary increase only $3 each season. So, because the Dux drafted Puig in 2013 before he appeared in an actual major league game, he is entering his 4th season on the roster. The league plays the season with 40-man rosters (23 active each week), so at the end of March there is a supplemental, on-line, snake draft to fill the remaining slots. These legal supplements can have a huge influence on the success of your team because so much can happen between November & March. For the teams who drafted (or kept) Joey Gallo, Yu Darvish, Eduardo Rodriguez, Max Kepler, Trea Turner, Carson Smith, Greg Bird, Aroldis Chapman, Jhonny Peralta & others, the first few rounds of this supplemental phase are critical to their team’s ability to contend.

 

As the result of finishing 7th in 2015, the Dux had the 6th pick in this supplemental phase as the first of 14 players to be added to the roster. As always, it becomes a lesson in strategy as to the utilization of scarce resources from a pool where over 350 players were already rostered . Looking at the Dux team, there weren’t any glaring weaknesses because all the players were still in the major leagues. The minor issues were Brantley starting the year on the DL and needing to add some additional power. The priorities easily became crystal clear. Take the best “HR” player at #6, add pitching depth and acquire back-ups for 2B & 3B.

 

Now, a word about prospects. Due to deep rosters, teams are not shy when it comes to rostering young players low in the minors and holding them until they’re ready. This is one of the key elements to a “dynasty” format and the owners in this league know everything about projectable minor leaguers, college players and even an occasional high-school phenom. In any given year, you could take a top-20 prospect list from your favorite publication or website and about 18 of them are already on one of the XFL rosters. The real gems in the 1st round of the supplemental draft are players who have rookie status and a major league job like Jose Abreu, who I selected with the first pick in 2014.

 

Teams have very difficult choices in the initial rounds, as they need to balance filling holes on their roster with also acquiring some long-term talent. This year, as we gathered at our computers on March 30th, the wheels were turning for 15 separate owners and here are the 1st Round results…

 

> 1.01 Kenta Maeda – The perfect pick in a “Dynasty” format because he has rookie status and a major league job.

 

> 1.02 Blake Snell – A consensus top pitching product, he should contribute later this year.

 

> 1.03 Yulieski Gurriel – This Cuban veteran hasn’t signed yet, but scouts say he’s major league ready.

 

> 1.04 Anderson Espinosa – Another young pitching prospect but he’s only 18 years old.

 

> 1.05 Byung Ho Park – Like Maeda, a great pick due to rookie status and major league job. A little surprising to see him available at this spot.

 

> 1.06 Jonathan Schoop – This was the Dux “HR” pick. The others on the list for this spot were Park, Mark Trumbo & Domingo Santana. Santana doesn’t yet have a track record and even though Trumbo had a higher projection, 2B was the weakest position in this draft. This also gives the squad a back-up to Hernandez, who isn’t a proven commodity after only a partial season.

 

> 1.07 Trevor Story – Jose Reyes’ pending suspension and a spectacular Spring moved this player up the board.

 

> 1.08 A.J. Reed – Impressive young hitter who will probably be in the Astros line-up sooner rather than later.

 

> 1.09 Archie Bradley – A recent top prospect who lost some of his luster after a horrific injury in 2015. Could be significant upside in this pick.

 

> 1.10 Vincent Velasquez – Starting pitching was at a premium in this draft and the Phillies 5th SP has good stuff, but little experience.

 

 

 

> 1.11 Glen Perkins – There are always a number of Closers available due to all the bullpen changes between November & March. Passed over in the auction due to injury concerns, Perkins is a solid pick in this spot

 

> 1.12 Lewis Brinson – A very impressive young OF for the Rangers, he’ll be knocking on the door soon.

 

> 1.13  Brad Ziegler – Another Closer who wasn’t a lock back in November.

 

> 1.14- Domingo Santana – Has three projectable traits…HR’s, SB’s & K’s.

 

> 1.15 Delvin Perez – Another highly-rated international prospect, this 17 year-old should sign very soon.

 

The first half of Round 2 included two more Closers in Fernando Rodney & Jeremy Jeffress, some additional prospects in Andrew Benintendi, Bradley Zimmer & Victor Robles along with veterans Trumbo & Nori Aoki.

 

At pick 2.10, the Dux would have liked to add a SP but none of the choices seemed worthy of the spot. Instead, we opted for Steve Cishek who could get some Saves in Seattle if one of our SP’s goes down in April.

 

At this point, it seemed like the timing was right to add a prospect, so in Round 3 we took Willson Contreras of the Cubs. Catchers are always at a premium in this format and Miguel Montero is only signed through ’17.

 

Additional picks…

 

> Round 4 Andrelton Simmons – Even though he’s a SS, this pick essentially gives the team a back-up 3B because Suarez will qualify at the hot corner very quickly.

 

> Round 5 Tyler Naquin – Will start the season as the Indians CF and provides some insurance if Brantley’s return is delayed.

 

> Round 6 Colin Rea – Not much to choose from in the SP pool, he’ll be a fall back in case of injury.

 

> Round 7 Kurt Suzuki – XFL teams must have a back-up Catcher who plays enough to help, but not enough to hurt.

 

> Round 8 Gleyber Torres – By the time this 19 year-old SS gets to Wrigley Field maybe I’ll learn to spell his name.

 

> Round 9 Chase Headley – Everyday players on your bench can’t hurt.

 

> Round 10 Alex Verdugo – Only the #7 prospect in the Dodgers organization but he’ll play 2016 at age 19.

 

> Round 11 Darren O’Day – Britton insurance.

 

> Round 12 Seth Smith – Under-rated and overlooked.

 

> Round 13 Corey Knebel – This was done prior to his injury as a flier in case Jeffress has problems closing.

 

> Round 14 Tom Koehler – An innings-eater in the back of a rotation, you hope he’s not needed.

 

The 38th, 39th & 40th spots on the roster were filled by three supplemental picks from previous years who are still in the minor leagues…Willy Adames, Yoan Moncada & Julio Urias.

 

How will the Dux fare? Our stat website projects a highly competitive league with four teams having 95+ points. The Dux are in the group, so as Marlon Brando once said (sort of), “we could be a contendah”.

 

More information and the league history can be found at fantasyxperts.com

 

Schoop

Same Time Next Year

In 1978, there was a movie titled “Same Time Next Year” starring Alan Alda & Ellen Burstyn. It wasn’t a classic film but was certainly entertaining, which is confirmed by its 7.2 rating on imdb.com. The plot was about two people, both married to others, who meet by chance at a romantic inn and end up sharing a night together. The next morning, they are wondering how this could have happened but decide to an agreement. They will meet each year on the same weekend at the same place and renew their relationship. Originally a stage play, the story takes the audience through the years with the same couple in the same room. The episodes take us from the early 1950’s to the mid 1970’s, as the changes in the world and their lives impact their relationship.

 

As I sat behind home plate at Surprise Stadium for 25+ games this March, the title of that movie popped out of my aging grey matter and wrapped itself around this wonderful annual experience. The girl I love each year is named Spring…it just so happens that her last name is Training. With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Of course, it was Sonnet 43, so she probably had a Dennis Eckersley jersey.

 

> The weather in Arizona this time of year is absolutely beautiful. Azure blue skies and emerald green grass greet you everyday at the ballpark.

 

> The ballpark is the most comfortable and fan-friendly of all the Cactus League facilities. Even though it opened in 2003, the newer parks with all the whistles and bells can’t compare with the sightlines and intimacy of this gem. It has a single concourse, allowing easy access for all fans. The concessions are on the concourse, so you don’t miss any game action while feeding your appetite or quenching your thirst. There are small upper-decks above 1B & 3B that hang out over the lower seats and add another viewing  perspective to the game. And, a local group of over 500 volunteers called the Sundancers are always there to assist you with everything from parking to charity raffles to wheelchair access for disabled fans to being at the top of every aisle helping fans find their seat.

 

> What isn’t apparent to most fans is that the ballpark has a second name…Billy Parker Field. When Billy Parker made his major league debut with a game-winning home run for the Angels on September 8, 1971, you probably could have completed the census of Surprise by yourself over a weekend. After his baseball career ended, Billy worked with youth programs for the city and was much beloved for his volunteerism before he passed away in 2003. Today, he would be proud to see the thousands of Little League players who attend youth day at the ballpark every March. The city’s current population is over 115,000.

 

> One of the first things you see when entering the leftfield gate for a game is a small tent hosted by Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins and his charity foundation. Almost everyday in March, you will find great ballplayers from the past signing autographs in exchange for a donation to the foundation. This Spring, you would have seen Rollie Fingers, Gaylord Perry, Bert Campanaris, Willie Wilson, Mudcat Grant and many others greeting fans and talking baseball with them.

 

> Speaking of autographs, these games obviously offer fans greater access to ballplayers and many hope to get signatures from their heroes. Some players sign a limited amount, some don’t sign at all but the nicest memory is the generosity of Josh Hamilton during his first go-round with the Rangers (2008-12). Typically, the regulars come out of a Spring Training game around the 5th inning and head down the foul line toward the clubhouse. Fans congregate in the area hoping that players might stop and sign, but most just take a circuitous route to avoid the inconvenience. For those five years he spent with the club, Josh stopped every day and signed autographs for as long as he could, even standing in foul territory while the game proceeded just to accommodate the fans. We’ve all had someone in our life who has battled addiction and can clearly understand how difficult it can be to overcome. This is a guy we should all root for because he understands what the game is all about.

 

> The National Anthem is a traditional moment at every baseball game and we’re privileged to have talented people perform at the Stadium each day during March. At least a half dozen times each Spring, however, we’re treated to a very special moment when Jesse McGuire gives us his rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on the trumpet. He has played the Anthem in front of three U.S. Presidents and at the 2001 World Series, but this time of year, he is our special guest. No matter your background or political persuasion, you are guaranteed to feel chills and treasure the moment. Then, as the home team takes the field, John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” pipes in over the loudspeakers and we’re ready to “Play Ball”.

 

> The other people in the ballpark also make the experience memorable. For me, it never gets old to engage long-time friends and new acquaintances in baseball conversation. My closest friend and his beautiful wife have had seats in the first row behind the 3rd base dugout since the ballpark opened. Sometimes I go down and join them for a couple of innings but even when we’re at a distance we’re still close. Each day, when he arrives at the park, we catch each other’s eye and say “hi” by flashing baseball signs to each other. My season seats are right behind home plate and even though they are about eight rows up from the field, they are on the railing above the tunnel used by visiting teams. The result is that there is no one in front of me to block the view…the best seats in the house! “Duke” is my wingman for about 2/3 of the games and we talk baseball for hours each day before reaching our pitch count and heading home for a nap (me) or “honey do’s” (him). For the other 8-10 games, the adjacent seat is occupied by golfing buddies, out-of-town guests or an occasional pretty girl who hasn’t figured out how old I am. This year was even more special, as my Son made the trek from SoCal to attend a sell-out with me between the Royals & Dodgers last week. Right across the aisle is another dear friend who makes an 11,000 mile round trip from the south coast of England each March to watch baseball. This same section is also where the scouts sit with their scorebooks and radar guns. This allows me the opportunity to visit with really smart guys like Deric McKamey, Kimball Crossley, Jason Grey & John Cox while also playing the recognition game by spotting former players like 1982 Cy Young Award winner Pete Vukovich.

 

> As most of the seats around mine are not season tickets, each day also brings new opportunities to talk baseball. There are always lots of Royals & Rangers fans in for a long weekend or extended visit. Just the other evening, the row in front us was filled with a group of ladies who came all the way from Texas to root for their Rangers. They were decked out in Ranger jerseys with all the accoutrements including team logo earrings We talked baseball for the whole game, agreed that people who are bored by baseball just aren’t very intelligent and pledged to see each other again next year. Of course, each visiting team is also represented by folks with jerseys from the Giants, Dodgers, Angels and others. Unlike pro football, there is never any animosity regarding loyalty. Everyone in the park is there for a good time enjoying the national pastime.

 

> Cactus League facilities have standard food menus and a few more upscale items, but this ballpark has two kiosks on the concourse called the Diamond Grill. They only have one item, a freshly grilled Italian Sausage on a soft bun with grilled onions & peppers. When the e-mail invitations are sent in February to my once-a-year guests, they seem more excited about the prospect of consuming this culinary delicacy than they are about the ballgame itself.

 

> As a Fantasy player, the games themselves are always exciting, interesting and informational. You can read all the scouting reports you want on the Internet, but the personal stories make the game a joy. This Spring, a former #1 pick from 2004 is attempting a comeback after battling alcoholism and serving a jail sentence for drunk driving. He hasn’t played since 2011 and was originally a Shortstop, but now he’s a Pitcher and the other day, Matt Bush hit 100 mph on the radar gun. You can’t make this stuff up.

 

> There is also the occasional sad moment. Two years ago, when Salvador Perez hit that screaming line drive that felled Aroldis Chapman, it was a surreal experience. Even with 7,000 people in the stands, there was total silence.

 

> And, of course, there are always a few enthusiastic fans applauding for an unknown prospect wearing #87 with no name on the uniform. You realize quickly that they’re members of his family and just hope he doesn’t strike out or give up a 3-run homer.

 

The Old Duck has only been in love a few times over the years, but the relationship with this girl I call Spring is the most enduring. She is beautiful, loyal, consistent and always in a good mood. I will miss her very much over the next 11 months, but knowing that she’ll be there “same time next year” makes it easier to bear.

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