It's the kind of news byte you dread reading at this early stage of spring training. Nevertheless, it's right there, in plain ol' black and white: Yovani Gallardo has been diagnosed with torn cartilage in his left knee and will undergo surgery Tuesday that will cost him four weeks. He is a virtual certainty to begin the season on the disabled list.
I'm a Gallardo fan. I had him ranked among my top 20 starters heading into camp, and that's a kind ranking, considering Carlos Zambrano missed the cut. So naturally, Sunday's news was especially distressing to me, and it led to two initial thoughts:
Thought A: This is awful for fantasy, and it's going to kill his draft-day price.
Thought B: This might not be such a bad thing for the Brewers.
When it comes down to it, Thought A is all that matters to us, right? My gut instinct says to kick $3-5 off Gallardo's price tag in auction formats, and perhaps two rounds, or maybe five to eight spots in the starting-pitching rankings, as a result of his surgery. Suddenly, he has risk where risk didn't exist before, so such a downgrade seems fair.
But it is Thought B that has me intrigued. Thinking back to Josh Beckett's comments last week that a 16-day, health-related stretch between starts last May was a contributing factor toward him remaining fresh deep into the postseason, perhaps Gallardo's surgery has a silver lining. He will turn 22 next week, and he totaled 121.1 innings in 2005, 155 in 2006 and 188 in 2007, meaning a 200-plus-inning campaign hardly looked likely anyway. With the Brewers looking like contenders, Gallardo might need to save some of those frames for October.
Accounting for the fact that Gallardo's recovery timetable puts his return around St. Patrick's Day, one can't imagine he will be ready to rejoin the Brewers until mid-April, and that's without any setbacks. That probably means 28-30 starts for him, a much more manageable workload than the typical 33-35 starts of a staff ace. If that means Gallardo will be fresher for potential October contests, the Brewers sure won't mind, but that also suggests he will be less fatigued deeper into the regular season, especially in those often-key mid-to-late September games. Fantasy owners will happily take that.
Of course, I'm assuming quite a bit about Gallardo's rehabilitation, that all will go well and on schedule. But for the most part, unless your league's draft is before we get further reports on his progress, this might not be devastating at all. My earlier value-drop estimates are fairly liberal; my expectations will improve with any positive step he takes. Gallardo might no longer be top-20-starter worthy, but I wouldn't wait too long after those 20 go, either.
• By the way, Manny Parra's value gets a boost as a result of the Gallardo news. Dave Bush, Chris Capuano and Carlos Villanueva are the current favorites for the three back-of-the-rotation spots in Milwaukee, although both Parra and Claudio Vargas will be in the mix. Parra had a 3.07 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 8.71 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio for his minor league career, so he surely will vault up my NL-only sleeper list.
• Some very interesting statistics in a report Sunday on the Angels' Web site, of which prospective Mike Napoli owners should take note. In 2007, Angels pitchers were 34-18 with a 3.89 ERA in games Jeff Mathis started and 38-30 with a 4.28 ERA in Napoli's starts. So it figures that the report also notes the two are in a dead heat for the starting role. Napoli is the better hitter, Mathis the better defender, the kind of situation that has timeshare written all over it. Napoli is the one you want for fantasy, but don't get carried away; those splits might mean he will sit more than you think and lose late-game at-bats, with Mathis being a frequent defensive replacement.
• Some telling words from Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez in Sunday's Miami Herald, claiming he might use a platoon at third base. Gonzalez added that Alfredo Amezaga isn't a candidate for the role, which effectively tipped his hand: Dallas McPherson is the only left-handed hitter of the team's three candidates (Jorge Cantu and Jose Castillo are the other candidates). Keep tabs on this battle in the coming weeks, but a McPherson/Cantu platoon seems somewhat realistic, and NL-only owners should be aware the lefty hitter usually gets the bulk of the at-bats in such an arrangement.
• According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Twins have no plans to add to their list of candidates for their vacant center field role, despite a glaring lack of experience from any of the current options. General manager Bill Smith said he hopes for one of Carlos Gomez, Jason Pridie and Denard Span to step up and handle the role, and manager Ron Gardenhire concurred. That puts Gomez head and shoulders above the rest, although Pridie's .303 batting average, .839 OPS and 26 stolen bases in the Rays' minor league system in 2007 could make him a sleeper if he stands out this spring. Span is more of a light-hitting speedster; he is a long shot at best. As things stand, Gomez should see the bulk of the at-bats, although fantasy owners shouldn't overrate him merely because he was a headliner in the Johan Santana trade. His most polished tool is his speed; much like the Marlins' Cameron Maybin, Gomez could be a cheap source of stolen bases who does nothing but disappoint you in the other categories.
• There had been much speculation on the matter, but manager Bruce Bochy confirmed it Sunday: Brian Wilson will be his closer to begin the season, according to the San Jose Mercury News. "We're not going to go back and forth on this," Bochy said. "We want Brian to be relaxed." Sadly, Wilson might not see many save chances on a team that, by all accounts, might be destined for last place. But with a 2.28 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and six saves while sharing the role the final two months of 2007, he certainly is a bargain saves candidate. One good thing: The Giants' non-contender status means they should be patient with Wilson even through his tougher spells this year.
• Dusty Baker apparently is at it again. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports he has spoken to free agents Kenny Lofton and Corey Patterson about his desire to add an experienced leadoff man. "Everybody needs a leadoff hitter," Baker said. "I think that is the most unappreciated, hardest-to-find quality position in baseball." Apparently, Baker hasn't gotten the memo saying Patterson's .298 career on-base percentage makes him a dreadful fit for the role. Such news is troubling to prospective Jay Bruce owners. Lofton wouldn't be a terrible pickup for the Reds, although it would be a shame to see a prospect like Bruce get blocked all year, and it seems there is a real chance of that happening now.
• The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Jeff Francoeur showed up to camp 17 pounds heavier, at 239, and is "noticeably more muscular in his shoulders, neck and legs." It is the result of working with trainer Chip Smith at the Competitive Edge Sports camp, which is designed to help college football players prepare for the NFL combine, and it was done with the outfielder's hope he could hit 30-plus homers. Keep an eye on how his added bulk affects his swing during spring games. After all, he's 24, which is an age at which a power boost could have been expected even without added muscle.
• Randy Johnson, coming off his second back surgery in less than a year, threw off the mound for manager Bob Melvin for the first time Sunday, according to The Associated Press. "He came out throwing bullets the first pitch he threw," Melvin said. Johnson, as things stand, should be healthy enough to begin the season in the rotation, although he has said before he doubts he will endure another surgery to extend his career. With a strong spring, he could be late-round mixed-league worthy and a decent mid-to-late NL-only starter, but at 44, he will be a health risk to some degree all year.
• Cubs manager Lou Piniella told the team's Web site he projects Geovany Soto will catch 120-125 games this season. Not that we weren't expecting that, but that's the kind of workload that should grant the rookie 400-plus at-bats, plenty to make a noticeable fantasy impact. In the best-case scenario, he will crack the top 10 at his position.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.