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Friday, May 27, 2011
Baseball Challenge: Week 9 preview

By Mike Sheets
Special to ESPN.com

Last week's entire column was spent scavenging the bargain bin, trying to find productive players who also allow salary cap flexibility. The week isn't yet over, but so far it looks like the starting lineup we put together was a bit of a mixed bag. We hit on some players (David DeJesus and Matt Joyce) and completely whiffed on others (Eric Hosmer and Justin Turner). Either way, attempting to field a competitive lineup without rostering a single player whose salary ranked in the top 15 at his respective position was a useful exercise, as it forced us to dig deep and think outside the box.

As for this week, the big news is that Buster Posey, the most widely-owned catcher in the Baseball Challenge, has landed on the disabled list with a fractured bone in his left leg that is expected to sideline him for up to two months. For owners who have been riding Posey since early in the season, this news is no doubt unfortunate. However, it also reminds us that, from a long-term perspective, you can use player injuries to your advantage.

Look at players like Chase Utley and Josh Hamilton. Utley, who was activated from the DL on Monday after missing nearly the entire first two months of the season with a knee injury, currently holds a market value of 5.1, which ranks 12th at second base. That's the same price as Jamey Carroll, who has zero home runs and just four RBI in 49 games this season. And Hamilton, who also returned from the disabled list on Monday, has a 4.7 price tag that ranks 19th among left fielders. In other words, he's the same price as Milton Bradley, who's without a team right now.

There's no guarantee that Utley and Hamilton will both return to All-Star form, but hey, the price is right. At the very least, it's worth tracking them during the next few weeks to see how they perform. And who knows, by the time Posey returns, he could be a bargain, too. It's something to keep in mind when star players miss extended periods of time.

With that, here's a look at our Week 9 lineup:

Week 9 Lineup for May 30 through June 5

C: Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers (@CIN-3, @FLA-3), 4.3 market price: Lucroy is starting to come into his own. He's hitting .313-4-17 in May and has been the top BBC catcher over the past two weeks. It helps that his 4.3 price tag ranks 20th at the position.

1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox (CWS-3, OAK-3), 6.1 market price: After hitting just one home run all of April, Gonzalez has eight home runs in May, and he's hitting .367 with 28 RBIs this month, to boot. During the past month, he's compiled 139 points, significantly more than any other first baseman (Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Howard are tied for second with 100).

2B: Kelly Johnson, Arizona Diamondbacks (FLA-3, WAS-4), 4.9 market price: Johnson is batting just .202 on the season, but he's hitting .302 with six extra-base hits during the past week. And over the past 15 days, he's been the most productive BBC second baseman.

3B: Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays (CLE-3, @BAL-3), 6.7 market price: Yes, Bautista is expensive, but he's been worth every penny. His 19 home runs lead all of baseball, and his 73 points over the past two weeks are 15 points more than any other third baseman (Kevin Youkilis is next with 58).

SS: Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians (@TOR-3, TEX-4), 6.2 market price: Cabrera already has 10 home runs this year after hitting just nine dingers in 904 at-bats between 2009 and 2010. He's also hitting .360 so far in May and has been the No. 1 BBC shortstop this season. Who knows if he can keep it up, but right now, he's the best at the position.

LF: Mike Morse, Washington Nationals (PHI-3, @ARI-4), 3.4 market price: Most fantasy owners gave up on Morse weeks ago, but he's starting to turn heads again for the first time since spring training. During the past week, the Nats outfielder is hitting .400 with three dingers and eight RBIs.

CF: Rajai Davis, Toronto Blue Jays (CLE-3, @BAL-3), 3.8 market price: Still one of the best bargains in the Baseball Challenge, Davis is hitting .300 so far in May, and he's a career .327 hitter in 18 games against the Indians, who the Jays face three times next week.

RF: Corey Hart, Milwaukee Brewers (@CIN-3, @FLA-3), 4.1 market price: Hart's power is finally starting to come around, as he's hit four home runs in the past three games, including three in one game against the Nationals on Monday. What's even more appealing is his 4.1 price tag.

DH: Roger Bernadina, Washington Nationals (PHI-3, @ARI-4), 3.9 market price: Bernadina, who has been a top-seven DH during the past two weeks, could lose some playing time now that Rick Ankiel has returned from the disabled list, but that 3.9 market price is too good to pass up. That said, if you have the cap space, there are certainly safer options available.

Pitching Staff: St. Louis Cardinals (@SF-4, @CHC-3), 6.0 market price: The Cardinals, who sport the best run differential in the National League (+51), have won eight of their past 10. While the Giants lead the NL West, they're currently riding a three-game losing streak and have scored the fewest runs in the NL (170). The Cubs, meanwhile, are four games under .500 and sport the worst ERA in the league (4.69).

Total Salary: $49.4 million, $0.4 remaining

Watch List

These are players I'm keeping an eye on:

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox, 3.4 market price: Salty is a long shot to ever crack my starting lineup, but he's dirt cheap and is batting .357 with three dingers during the past week. I'm keeping an eye on him; that's all I'm saying.

Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies, 5.1 market price: As I discussed above, Utley is a potential value if he returns to form. Hopefully the fact he homered in his third game back on Thursday is a sign of things to come.

Raul Ibanez, LF, Philadelphia Phillies, 4.8 market price: Ibanez is far from exciting, but he's showing that he still has something left, hitting .333 in May after managing just a .161 clip in April.

Scouting Schedules

Note: A ballpark that ranked top-10 in terms of home runs last year is considered hitter-friendly, while the bottom-10 parks are pitcher-friendly. In order to be listed below, a team must have two series at hitter-friendly venues, or two at pitcher-friendly parks.

Hitter-friendly schedules: Toronto Blue Jays, Cincinnati Reds.

Pitcher-friendly schedules: San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates.

Seven-day work weeks: San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins.