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The best part about the "Hot Stove League" are the "What if?" questions that come with it. No, not, "What if Ismael Valdes didn't take steroids?" Instead, visions of fantasy options playing in different uniforms already have sugar plums dancing in our heads.
Every now and then, it's good to break down what a few offseason maneuvers can go to positional rankings. After reading about a few early rumors straight from the stovetop of our own Buster Olney and Jerry Crasnick, we already can see some movement ahead in our third base rankings.
So I did my initial 2008 rankings and then played the "What if ..." game with the players discussed.
|2008 Third Base Rankings|
|1||Alex Rodriguez||Free agent||32|
|8||Mike Lowell||Free agent||34|
|13||Troy Glaus||Blue Jays||31|
|18||Josh Fields||White Sox||25|
|24||Akinori Iwamura||Devil Rays||29|
|34||Joe Crede||White Sox||29|
Player movement implications among third base rankings (with suggested rank in parentheses):
Alex Rodriguez (Current rank: 1; anywhere he might call home: 1). Let's face it: A-Rod is A-Rod. You could put him in Washington's old Griffith Stadium, considered one of the worst home-run ballparks in history, and he'd still hit 40 homers. Any increase in ballpark favorability would be negated by a drop in lineup support.
Miguel Cabrera (Current rank: 4; if he ends up with Dodgers: 4; White Sox: 3; Yankees: 3). If Miggy can tear it up while playing half his games in Florida, he can do it just about anywhere, and a move would help his numbers. Granted, his 5x5 albatross is his lack of steals, and that wouldn't change even if he played for the uber-aggressive Whitey Herzog. But imagine his bat at U.S. Cellular Field hitting between Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye, or for the Yankees in that devastating lineup. Those are pretty good guys ranked above him, but a favorable move like this would put some distance between the top four and the rest of the pack.
Garrett Atkins (Current rank: 7; if ends up elsewhere: no better than 13th). Crasnick reports that the Rockies are at least listening to offers for Atkins, probably to open up a spot for Ian Stewart. I know, I know. Coors Field is no longer a hitters haven, the humidor is ... blah, blah, blah. It takes more than a season or two (maybe five or six?) of lesser scoring for me to be convinced a ballpark in the Mile-High City could be neutral. Atkins hit .349 at home and .254 on the road in 2007. He's proven he's a legit big-league hitter, but a move from Colorado's Coors Field would make him a bust candidate if drafted in the early rounds.
Mike Lowell (Current rank: 8; with Mariners: 11; Blue Jays: 10; Braves: 12; Rangers: 9). The "current rank" has him staying in Boston, so obviously a move would hurt his value. A proven vet like Lowell should give you mostly what you'd expect, but we'd rather he stayed out of the National League. He hit .236, with eight homers and 58 RBIs the last time he played a full season there.
Hank Blalock (Current rank: 26; Anywhere else: probably about the same). A Dallas Morning News report was vague as to where Blalock could be headed, only that he was being inquired about. Whatever happened to Blalock? One minute he's an All-Star hero; the next he's considered an injury-prone youngster who can't hit lefties and can't hit on the road. Until those deficits are corrected, his upside is limited. Sometimes a change in scenery is all it takes to rejuvenate a talent like Blalock, but we'd have to see it to believe it.
Joe Crede (Current rank: 34; with Yankees: 27). Why the disparity? Because the White Sox have Josh Fields all set to at least platoon at third base, while the Yankees would give Crede the first shot to replace A-Rod if they signed him. But the bottom line here has to do with Crede's health, which is why he's ranked so low in the first place. I'm not convinced he'll be 100 percent in 2008, and I have doubts as to whether .293-30-94 numbers were the real deal to begin with.
Andy LaRoche (Current rank: 35; with Marlins: 38). LaRoche has plenty of tools, but he proved last year he's at least a year away from producing for fantasy owners. A move to Florida probably wouldn't slow down his developmental path, but he'd have a little less lineup support while he learns.
Rich Aurilia (Current rank: 39: Anywhere else: About the same). Fantasy owners have written off Aurilia every year since he proved his magical 2001 season wasn't for real by posting a mediocre 2002 campaign. Each year he managed to do a little more than we expected him to, until 2007. He's done. He'll be lucky to get 300 at-bats in '08.
Ryan Zimmerman (Current rank: 10; With a surgically repaired wrist: 10). As Buster Olney mentioned, Zimmerman did the right thing by telling the Nationals right away that he had injured himself while swinging the bat last weekend. Zimmerman broke his hamate bone, a common injury to young hitters. He'll be fine, and the simple fact that he was hitting and/or swinging the bat hard enough in early November to break a bone means well for his 2008 preparation.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN.com Fantasy.