2011 Fantasy Outlook: What to make of Chase Utley’s knee

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Man, Chase Utley has become a yearly case study for fantasy owners, hasn’t he?

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley waits on a pitch against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on September 2, 2010 in Denver. The Phillies lead the NL Wild Card race. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Two years ago Utley was coming off offseason hip surgery and owners were afraid to draft him, even at a thin second base position. Last year, he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained thumb at the end of June and for the first time in five years he failed to score at least 90 runs.

Now there are reports that the patellar tendonitis that he’s been battling in his knee may be worse than the Phillies initially thought. He recently received a cortisone injection and even GM Ruben Amaro said the knee hasn’t responded as the club hoped it would. The second baseman took batting practice over the weekend, but there’s no timetable for his participation in spring games and therefore, fantasy owners are left with yet another Chase Utley conundrum.

Assuming you were planning on targeting him before the knee injury became an even bigger concern, do you still draft him in the second round (which is what his ADP is in a 12-team league)? Do you pass on him altogether and target the next best options in Dustin Pedroia, Dan Uggla or Ian Kinsler? Do you hope he falls and then scoop him up later when he represents more value?

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2011 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Relievers

San Francisco Giants Brian Wilson throws the ninth inning against the Texas Rangers in the World Series at AT&T Park in San Francisco on October 27, 2010. The Giants defeated the Rangers 11-7. UPI/Terry Schmitt

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Ah, the fantasy closer. They’ll screw with you just as bad as that hot chick you used to have a thing for back in high school.

Damn she looks good today…No wait, it’s a trick. She’s making me think that I need her to become a winner. Well I don’t. I don’t need her. I’ll just go out with two less attractive girls and I’ll be just fine. Or…yeah, I don’t need any girl! I’m going to punt girls altogether and focus on other things like schoolwork, sports and hanging out with my friends. I don’t need her – I don’t need any of them!..Oh, but look at her. She’s everything I need. She’s way better than two less attractive girls or no girls at all and hey, if she breaks my heart it’s okay. Sure, I would have passed on the two less attractive girls but then I can take on three really, really, really less attractive girls that still might give me what I need in the end. It wouldn’t be so bad…wait, NO! I don’t need her! Stay away from me you freaking serpent woman!

And the cycle continues year after year.

Look, no matter how you want to tackle the conundrum that is the fantasy closer, just make sure you have a plan of attack. If you want to take one of the top guys in the sixth or seventh round, fine. Just know going into your draft whether or not you’re going to invest in saves or take your chances with two or three guys that you select later in your draft. (Or, punt the stat altogether and load up on offense and starters.)

If you want our advice, draft two or three closers in the 12th round and beyond and call it a day. Maybe the combination of Brian Wilson and Huston Street will get you 80 saves, but a trio of Francisco Rodriguez, Leo Nunez and Joel Hanrahan could rack up the same amount and here’s the kicker: you wouldn’t need to invest picks in the seventh and 13th rounds to acquire K-Rod/Nunez/Hanrahan (who can all be had in the 14th round or later).

If you want to take our advice and select closers later in your draft, here are five pitchers to keep an eye on. All of them are projected to go in the 13th round or later in 12-team leagues.

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2011 Fantasy Baseball All-Contract Year Team

Fellow TSR fantasy baseball writer David Medsker recently reminded me of something legendary manager Sparky Anderson once said:

“Just give me 25 guys on the last year of their contracts; I’ll win a pennant every year.”

It got me thinking: What if you could build a fantasy team this year comprised only of players in the last years of their contracts? Granted, unless your league was made up of owners who have lived in a cave for the past five years, you couldn’t draft Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano and Jose Reyes on the same team. But since this is just for stickers and giggles, don’t sweat the details. (Seriously, have a little fun for once in your life.)

Without further ado, I give you the All-Contract Year Fantasy Team.

(Note: I’ve indicated if a player has a club option for next year.)

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Catcher: Jorge Posada, Yankees
Obviously Posada’s best days are behind him and now that the Yankees have Russell Martin to help share the catching duties this season, it appears as though the 39-year-old backstop is destined to finish his career as a DH. Hopefully the transition will mean fewer trips to the disabled list for Posada, who has landed on the DL four times in the past three years combined. There’s still 15-20 home runs left in his bat and with this being the final year of his contract, he needs to show the Bombers that he’s worth keeping around past this season. (Yadier Molina of the Cardinals also has a $7 million club option with a $750K buyout for next season, so he’s another possibility if you’re concerned about Posada’s durability.)

First Base: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by writing about why Albert Pujols is the best first base-eligible player in a contract year, but what I will do is note that both Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder’s current deals also run out in 2011. Talk about an interesting 2012 free agency year it’ll be for first basemen.

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2011 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Starting Pitchers

Philadelphia Phillies all-star pitcher Roy Halladay wins his 20th game as pitcher for the Philadelphia Philies during the Philadelphia Phillies-Atlanta Braves game in Philadelphia September 21, 2010. UPI/John Anderson

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There seems to be two types of fantasy owners when it comes to drafting starting pitchers:

Fantasy Owner #1: Hello Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum or Felix Hernandez in the early rounds. I’m going to draft at least one stud early and wish the dopes that wait to grab pitchers in the middle to late rounds good luck. Hope they like playing Russian Roulette.

Fantasy Owner #2: While the morons are grabbing supposed studs in the first couple of rounds, I’m loading up on offense since it’s more predictable than figuring out what starters won’t have Zack Grienke-type 2010 campaigns. I’ll grab my pitchers in the middle rounds and be just fine.

No matter which fantasy owner you are, the No. 1 factor when it comes to drafting pitchers is understanding how the scoring system is set up in your league. If you play in a rotisserie league, then you’re probably fine employing Fantasy Owner #2’s philosophy and then making adjustments throughout the year depending on what you need (i.e. trading away saves for strikeouts, or speed for wins and ERA).

On the flip side, if you’re in a head-to-head league where you know a pitcher like Halladay can be the difference between winning and losing a couple of categories, then you may want to think about nabbing a starter early. Again, it’s all about understanding how the scoring is set up in your league.

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2011 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Outfield

Colorado Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez flips his bat after striking out against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field on September 13, 2010 in Denver. The Padres beat the Rockies 6-4. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

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We’ve always viewed outfield as your one-stop shopping when it comes to fantasy baseball. Once your roster has taken shape and you’re looking to address potential weaknesses, the outfield position can be extremely useful.

Obviously we don’t need to sell you on Ryan Bruan, Carl Crawford or Carlos Gonzalez. They’ll go in the first round. We also don’t need to convince you to take Josh Hamilton, Matt Holliday or Matt Kemp, who will all go in the second. We even don’t need to say much about Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, Justin Upton or Andrew McCutchen, because you know their value in the third and fourth rounds.

But when you start to get deeper into your draft and you notice that you lack speed or power, that’s when knowing what players can help is beneficial.

Need speed?…

Juan Pierre, White Sox
Pierre gets labeled as a “one category player,” but that’s not really the case. Sure he stole a whopping 68 bases last season, but he also hit .275 and scored 96 runs. Obviously you’re not drafting him for his power, but he’s more than just a base stealer – draft him with confidence.

Michael Bourn, Astros
The problem with Bourn is that he’s usually overrated on draft day. He was one of only three players to steal 50 bases last season and people will overpay to have him on their roster. Unlike Pierre, who’ll score 90-plus runs and hit between .275 and .280, Bourn will probably top out at 85 runs, hit .265 and rack up only 40 RBI. Granted, those numbers are only slightly worse than Pierre’s, but just know that if you draft Bourn, you’re probably overpaying for steals (which maybe you’re fine with).

Raja Davis, Blue Jays
Along with Pierre and Bourn, Davis was one of the three players last year to swipe 50 bags. The problem is that he might not come close to doing it again if he doesn’t draw more walks. That said, he’s projected as the Jays’ starting centerfielder and his defense will give him plenty of opportunities to play. He may not steal 50 bases again this year, but 45 is certainly a reasonable expectation.

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