Even though my name is only two syllables, he always stretched it out so that it almost sounded like four, in that unmistakable drawl of his.
"Maaaaaaaaaaaatthewwwwwwwww," he would say as he chomped on his cigar and adjusted his trademark ten-gallon hat. "Come philosophize with your old uncle." And, with a huge smile on my face, I would walk into his office and do just that.
My great-uncle Lester Gold was 88 years old when he passed away last Monday, and many of you reading this don't realize it yet, but the world became a much lesser place that day.
It's rare that you have a close relationship with your great-uncle, but Lester was a rare man. It was impossible not to have a close relationship with him.
My father, Dr. Leonard L. Berry, no slouch in his own right, gives Lester much of the credit for his focus, ambition and success. I will tell you that much of my drive, ambition and focus comes from my father and my Uncle Lester, so, really, it all comes from him when you get down to it.
I don't know that there is any definitive way to judge whether a man had a successful life, but whatever metric you wanna use, Uncle Lester blew it out of the water.
A self-made and -taught man, Lester grew up the son of poor immigrants. When he was 13, his mother passed away, so he had to start working to help support the family. "I'm a peddler," he would always tell me. "Just a peddler."
But Lester wasn't "just" anything. He started with junk, biking back and forth between junkyard in Denver. Soon, he had scraped enough to buy his first car for $5. And then promptly sold it for $10.
He took that $10 and bought another car and sold that one and kept buying and selling cars and eventually was able to open his first used car dealership. He was 18 years old.
That year he was 18 was a good one for my uncle. Because that was also the year he got together with my Aunt Cookie. They've been together for 70 years now, and nothing as simple as death is going to keep them apart. Their souls are together for eternity.
My Uncle Lester was fantastically successful in business, opening up a chain of car dealerships and then getting into oil for a long time and then land development. I couldn't possibly tell you how many millions of dollars the man was worth because he never flaunted his wealth. The only time it ever came up was to either donate it (he was very generous) or spend it on family.
So many memories. Once, when I was 14 or so, I was having lunch with Lester and Cookie and I asked him naively, "Uncle, you're so successful. How do you do it? What's the secret?"
"Maaaaaaaaaaaatthewwwwwwwww," he said, "It's very simple. I figured out a long time ago it was just easier to make more money than it was to stop your Aunt Cookie from spending it."
My aunt cackled in that great laugh of hers and nodded. "He's right. I grew up on a farm. And we had work horses and show horses. I told your uncle on our first date I'm a show horse." And they both laughed together. They did that a lot.
As you might imagine from a man who started working at 13, served our country overseas in World War II and was a self-made millionaire with the same girlfriend -- as he always referred to Cookie -- for 70 years, my uncle had a lot of strong opinions backed up by a wealth of life experience.
He had a strong opinion on everything and often had a colorful phrase about it. We called them "Lesterisms," and when I would go to Denver and "philosophize with my old uncle," he would share them with me.
I (and many, many others) use them to this day. Podcast listeners know I hate keeper questions well before they are due. I always say the reason is "Don't make a decision until you have to." Well, guess where I got that one from?
It's a Lesterism, and I have found they are helpful in life and in fantasy baseball. And before you scroll through to the names because you think you know everything you need to about fantasy baseball -- or life -- consider my uncle, who always felt that we should never stop learning. So, as a man dedicated to the Jewish faith, he started a weekly Talmud study group with a local rabbi. When he was 64. And studied it for the 24 years up until his death. If he was still learning at 88, you can take a few moments to let my uncle help you the next time you are doing a fantasy trade.
"Don't risk what you cannot afford to lose."
"In the old used car sales days, if a guy was trying to trade in one car for another and asked if the car leaked oil, that meant his car leaked oil."
"If you're in a poker game with five guys and each guy has $100 and you've won $400, it's time to leave you've already won most of the money."
"If you can get 80 percent of what you want in a deal, take it. Most guys screw it up trying to get the last 20 percent."
"It's a good deal only if both sides are satisfied."
"Don't trade something you need for something you don't."
"Do not presume an outcome before it occurs; more times than not you will be wrong."
And my favorite
"Never chase a woman, a streetcar or a deal."
He preached being conservative in business -- "The best way to double your money is to fold it up and put it in your pocket" -- but being adventurous in life: "You never know how big of a ditch you can jump over until you fall in."
He had a million of them. "If you tell a lie, you better have a really good memory." "Borrow money when you can get it, not when you need it."
And "Anyone can get along with easy people. A great executive can get along with difficult people."
But the one he used the most was the answer to a question. Every time I saw my uncle, I'd ask him how he was doing. He answered the same every time.
"Still climbing that mountain, Maaaaathewwww. Still climbing that mountain."
He was never satisfied. He felt there was always something he could improve on and do better.
As the Intermountain Jewish News recently wrote, "The word 'colorful' was invented for Lester Gold. We might call Gold, who died this week, a philanthropist, an astute businessman, a behind-the-scenes leader who made things happen. We might say all this, and even add that he was an extraordinarily devoted husband and father and grandfather. We may say all this, and be right, and still fail to capture him."
By his example, Lester set high expectations for anyone in his orbit. He and Aunt Cookie had three daughters. Those three daughters had seven kids (five women, two men). Those seven grandkids have 12 children of their own, and two more will be born this summer. They all live in Denver, very close to their Poppy and Gammy. I can still see my uncle now, sitting in his white recliner, a huge grin on his face, as any number of kids or grandkids or great-grandkids ran around with shrieks of joy.
I know I'm not anywhere near the kind of man my uncle was, and I can't imagine how I could ever be. But it's a worthy goal to shoot for. So I'm still climbing that mountain.
They say baseball is for dads and sons, and so, as we meander slowly into the 2011 preseason fantasy baseball version of Love/Hate, I'd humbly request you put this story down for a sec -- it's OK, I'll wait -- and call someone you love right now and tell them that. This story and your work and the game we all love will still be there, but there will come a day when those you love will not.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of Love/Hate, this is my take on players relative to their average draft positions on ESPN.com for standard 10-team mixed leagues.
Just because I list Ian Kinsler as a Hate and Eric Young Jr. as a Love does not mean I like the speedy Rockie over the second baseman from Texas. Nor does it mean that I think Kinsler will have a bad season and Young will have a good one.
What it does mean is that, relative to their average ESPN.com rankings/average draft positions, I think that Kinsler going approximately a round ahead of Brandon Phillips is too early and that you can grab Young in the late rounds of an NL-only draft and possibly get 20 steals with upside for more. That's nice value so late, which I love.
This column caters mostly to the 10-team mixed league, but I've put some names in for those of you in AL- or NL-only leagues, as well. Those guys have an asterisk by their names.
As always, the "Loves" are much longer than the "Hates" because, well, there's a reason so many upper players are drafted early: They're very good. And if they're not being drafted early, they aren't as good, so me bagging on them is fairly unproductive. Although, in some cases, I'll do it anyway, for personal reasons. You didn't think this was all going to be about you, did you? Hi, have we met?
Finally, I know some people complain that I discuss too many players, but there are going to be 750 guys on Opening Day rosters, not counting the disabled list, and that's before you even get to guys who will get called up. Baseball's talent pool is as wide as it is deep, and this article discusses just a percentage of that number. Finally, I don't list the players in the order that I love them; rather, I list them team by team, in order, starting with the AL East. Here we go.
The Guys I Love
Brian Roberts, 2B, Orioles (ADP: 143): A health risk to be sure, but he stole 10 bases after coming back last year. The power is on a bit of a decline, but that was always a bonus anyways. If you're drafting B-Rob for power, you're probably watching Michael Bay movies for the dialogue. (Actual line from a Bay movie: "OK, so a giant robot's out to break apart a pyramid that'll release a machine that'll eat suns!") Baltimore's got a better offense than you think, and Roberts will be leading it off. A career .283 hitter who hit .287 after the break, he had three straight years of at least 100 runs and 30 steals before last season. Even if he misses a month or so over the course of the season, his production when healthy is very worthy of a 13th-round pick, two rounds ahead of where he's going.
Adam Jones, OF, Orioles (134): Friend of the podcast! As he told us, he enters spring training with the idea that he needs to work on his base stealing and will attempt more this year. If he can improve on last year's seven steals to 15 or so, watch out. Getting Roberts back at the top of the lineup will help (as the No. 1 or No. 2 hitter last year, Jones hit .250; as the No. 5 or No. 6 hitter, he hit .307). Use your inner Casey Kasem voice as you read the fact that Jones is making his third straight appearance on the "Loves," and eventually I'm gonna be right about him, dammit.
Mark Reynolds, 3B, Orioles (151): Over the past three years, no third baseman has more homers than Reynolds. He has 104, to be exact, ahead of Alex Rodriguez's 95, and a lot more than Evan Longoria and Jose Bautista's third-palace tie of 82. He's third in RBIs (behind only David Wright and Longoria), second in runs scored (Wright again) and third in steals (Chone Figgins and Wright). He's a four-category guy, even if the speed is declining. A career .323 BABIP guy, he had a .257 BABIP last year. He walked more last season, hit more fly balls and was a little banged up. He's never gonna win you a batting title, but if he hits .250 instead of .198, we're in business. Pour the lemonade, Timmy, I'm selling a Cup O' Reynolds for 50 cents a pop. Those who point out the strikeouts should remember '09, when he struck out more, walked less and hit .260.
Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Orioles (154): In 32 career games at Camden Yards, he's got nine home runs and 30 RBIs and hit .333. Just saying.
Brian Matusz, P, Orioles (191)*: As Jason Grey, who wrote Matusz's player profile, notes, "Over his final 11 starts, the four-pitch lefty posted a 2.18 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 52 strikeouts in 62 innings, with seven wins. During that time, he faced just one team with a record under .500 (the 80-82 Angels)." He's just 24, has a career K/9 over 7 and is nice to children and puppies. What more do you need?
Justin Duchscherer, P, Orioles (260)*: When you're spending a buck at the end -- of either an AL-only auction or a night at a club, you're not expecting much but hoping to get lucky. This guy is as good a gamble as any. (In the auction.)
Josh Beckett, P, Red Sox (168): Much like Justin Bieber and the new "Spider-Man" musical, the hate has gone too far. Look, I understand the anger, the annoyance, the feeling that U2 phoned in the music. But he's not this bad. Hey, I owned him last year and he single-handedly crushed my deep, AL-only Tout Wars pitching staff. So no one knows better than me how brutal he was. But a K/9 of over 8 last year and a BABIP of .338 suggest there's some skills left, especially if the balls-in-play average regresses to the usual .300. He walked too many last year and gave up a few too many homers, but I'm gonna chalk that up to his not being fully healthy. Drop him a few rounds because of last year and then add one more because of the soul patch, but he should not be dropping this far.
Ryan Kalish, OF, Red Sox (260)*: Thirteen home runs, 25 steals and a .294 average in fewer than 300 at-bats in two stops in the minors last year. J.D. Drew is ahead of him in the Red Sox outfield and there's always a chance Jacoby Ellsbury isn't actually all that healthy, so yeah, I think he'll get some play.
Nick Swisher, OF, Yankees (153.6): Does anyone really love Nick Swisher? Frankly, after his marriage to the ridiculous (in a good way) Joanna Garcia, I kinda hate him. But power is hard to find this year, especially in the outfield, and Swisher is 80/29/80 in the bank. Got lucky with the average and the wife last year, but at this point, I'd much rather have a three-category, power-hitting outfielder than the other question marks that are being drafted around him.
James Shields, SP, Rays (210): See Beckett, Josh. Bad luck last year, but skills still there. Hate has gone too far.
Sean Rodriguez, 2B, Rays (260)*: Last year, only six second basemen hit 20 home runs. S-Rod, as only I call him, has a shot at being No. 7.
Jake McGee, RP, Rays (222): "He's my closer!" (slap) "My setup guy!" (slap) "My closer!" (slap) "My setup guy!" (slap) Gittes: "He'll have value no matter what, but which is he Joe? Which is he?" (slap) Maddon: "Forget it, Jake. It's Tampa Bay."
J.P. Arencibia, C, Blue Jays (230.6): The only thing longer than the way to that McGee joke is how many rounds you should wait on a catcher in an ESPN standard one-catcher league. Not for the batting average risk averse, but he's gonna have 20 bombs by the end of the year.
Jose Bautista, 3B/OF, Blue Jays (34.5): Last year was a bit fluky, but not as much as you think. Pay for 35 home runs, not 50, but still very valuable.
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Blue Jays (217): So, I got this e-mail:
Adam (Kitchener, Ontario) What's up with Encarnation in Toronto? ESPN has him ranked in the top 200, and at 17 for 3B. Some other solid sites don't even rank him in their top 300. With 3B being so shallow this year and power in general being hard to find, what kind of value do you see EE having this year and do you see him holding on to full-time DH at-bats?
TMR: I don't read other sites, so I can't speak for them or comment. I will say, if anyone doesn't rank him as a top 300 guy, I don't understand it. Since being in Toronto, he's hit a home run every 16 at-bats. By comparison, last season Albert Pujols hit one every 14 at-bats. Now, EE needs to stay healthy and find regular playing time, but he's just 28. The potential is there for a magical season at a scarce position, and in Round 20 or so, he's very much worth the gamble.
Most of the Toronto Blue Jays: You know what? Instead of just writing them all out separately, I think there's a lot of fantasy goodness potential on this team. I expect Adam Lind (131) and Aaron Hill (112.5) to bounce back (a .277 and .196 BABIP, respectively), Rajai Davis (145) is a career .281 hitter with more than 90 steals the past two seasons and is proof you actually can steal first, plus Brandon Morrow (166) is ready to go to the next level (last year 4.49 ERA but 3.16 FIP).
Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox (86): Power is scarce this year and if I can get 30 and 90 in the ninth round, I'm taking it. No one will go "ooh" and half the room will yawn, but just because he's old doesn't mean he can't be productive. And yes, I say that in the mirror every morning. About myself, not about Paul. That'd just be weird and oddly specific.
Edwin Jackson, P, White Sox (223): A K/9 of over nine once he came over to Chicago. Named Ed"win".
Jake Peavy, P, White Sox (222): See Shields, James.
Gordon Beckham, 2B, White Sox (126): Hit .310 post-All Star break, is only 23 and his wife is the crazy-hot-even-though-she-sort-of-looks-like-a-bug Victoria Beckham. I'm sorry? What? Ah, apparently I've been misinformed. He's 24.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Indians (38.4): He's 20/20 in the bank with a .300 average. I like to go safe early and it doesn't get much safer than Choo, who is a late-second- or third-round talent going late in the fourth. Shin Soo? I choo-choo-choose you! (I'm not the first to use that joke, but then again, I won't be the last.)
Michael Brantley, OF, Indians (260)*: A career .303 hitter in the minors, he stole 46 bags in Triple-A in '09. He's fast, he's cheap and he's currently got the gig. Works as a player profile and a pick-up line.
Chris Perez, RP, Indians (156): July 17 of last year was the first day Chris Perez got a save after Cleveland had traded Kerry Wood (the other seven came while Wood was injured). From that point on, his 16 saves tied him for 11th in baseball in that span, he had a 0.63 ERA and had a 32-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28 2/3 innings. Sixteenth round. Don't pay for saves, kids.
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers (8.9) He's been dropping into the second round in some places because of his off-the-field issues. I'm not going to make light of Miggy's demons (mostly because my editor tells me it's too soon; check back in July), but he had these issues in '09 and I'll take that 34/103/.324 all day long. You don't wanna take him at three? Fine. But he better not get past six.
Ryan Raburn, OF, Tigers (218.5) You know that I love finding power in the outfield and Raburn's got it. Second straight year he's finished strong (13/46/.315 post All-Star) and now he's got a full-time gig. He needs to avoid a slow start, but there's less competition there these days, so even if he does, he should have a longer leash.
Max Scherzer, SP, Tigers (102.5): When I read "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" I was bored for the first 100 pages. What the hell was everyone so excited about? Second half of the book, I couldn't put it down. Started slow, ended strong: Max Scherzer is the pitcher with the dragon tattoo.
Billy Butler, 1B, Royals (92.9): The starting first baseman on my all-fantasy-kryptonite team.
Francisco Liriano, P, Twins (89.2): And he's our ace.
Brian Duensing, P, Twins (260)*: Only for deep AL-only leagues and ideally 4x4 ones, because he doesn't strike anyone out. But he's a crafty lefty I've always liked. Crafty as in, he has good control to keep batters off-balance, not that he makes portraits out of macaroni.
Joe Nathan, P, Twins (162.6): They say he's healthy. And when have they ever lied?
Kendry Morales, 1B, Angels (75.6): In an unpredictable game in which anything can happen, I guarantee he won't get injured stepping on home plate again. Take it to the bank.
Peter Bourjos, OF, Angels (260)*: He's fast, son. Country fast.
Dan Haren, SP, Angels (63.5): Sometimes I don't even know who I am anymore.
Coco Crisp, OF, A's (231.8): I know, I know, he can't stay healthy. But in shallow leagues, where the free-agent pool is deep, you can afford that. Good average and 30 steals, it's guys like Crisp who make me say wait on getting speed and make sure you lock up power early. Lots of guys like Crisp out there.
Gio Gonzalez, SP, A's (219.7): Not a new name here, but we have him ranked 79th among starting pitchers. That's nuts. At 8-3 with a 2.59 ERA and 1.23 WHIP post All-Star break, he definitely got a little lucky. Pitching-wise, I mean, not with the ladies. (His xERA in the second half was 3.58). But he's got a K/9 of 7.7, he's just 25 and pitches half his game in the cavern known Oakland Coliseum.
Chone Figgins, 3B, Mariners (131.6): Now that he's dropped this far down, I'm back being wiggy for Figgy. He'll be better than last year.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Mariners (226.9)*: A nice AL-only play, he's a post-hype sleeper candidate who is just 24. Gut call here.
Erik Bedard, SP, Mariners (260): Fantasy. Kryptonite. Can you request an intervention for yourself? Is that allowed?
Mike Napoli, C, Rangers (174.8) Mentioned this in our sleepers and busts column as well, but the point remains. Questions about playing time and his average will keep his draft stock low, yet despite always splitting time when he was with the Angels, no catcher has more home runs over the past three years than one Michael Anthony Napoli. With Michael Young on the trade block, Mitch Moreland unproven, and Adrian Beltre and others an injury risk, he'll get at least 400 at-bats. He got unlucky last year with the average (.279 BABIP last year, career .293) and should hit closer to the .273 he averaged in '08 and '09.
Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers (28.2): First-round talent going in the third. One of these years he's gonna stay healthy all the way through. I say this is the year.
Brandon Webb, SP, Rangers (260)*: Why not?
Martin Prado, 2B/3B, Braves (75.6): Someone sent me a note recently asking if I had seen a blog that ripped me for my Martin Prado ranking. Both the sheer volume of e-mails I get and blogs that rip me are too numerous to reply to, but I will say this one took me a bit by surprise. Really? Why the Prado hate? Last year, there were only 17 players in major league baseball (including Prado) who scored at least 100 runs. Seventeen. Nate makes this point on our podcast all the time and he's right: No one ever pays attention to runs scored but they count just as much as the other four categories.
Now, not only was Prado 14th overall in runs in the majors, but he was 15th in batting average as well. So you're getting "elite" production in two cats. From a middle infielder. How many middle infielders were top-15 in the majors in more than one 5x5 category last season? Two: Robinson Cano (AVG, R, RBI) and Dan Uggla (HR, R, RBI), who, by the way, should help Prado score even more runs this season.
Add to that Prado's 15-20 homer potential, a handful of steals and, after two weeks into the season, that he'll qualify at three different and reasonably scarce positions, and yeah, that's why I have Prado in my top 60.
Tim Hudson, SP, Braves (118): Owning a guy like Hudson allows you to own pigs that get high strikeouts with bad WHIPs. I'm not going to name any of these unattractive folks, but suffice to say, at closing time, when you think no one in your league is looking, you've gone home with an Oliver Perez type in a desperate search for, er, strikeouts. You know you have. And Huddy is like blackout curtains; the kind of unsung hero that lets you get through a bad night game or 20.
Mike Minor, SP, Braves (260)*: Once the league gets a load of him, they'll call him Mike Major. (Pause). On the plus side, his talent is much better than this joke.
Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Marlins (175.5)*: Named like girl, swings like a man. Especially against lefties. And Commies. Which, contrary to popular opinion, aren't always the same thing.
Logan Morrison, OF, Marlins (216.1): Friend of the podcast! He's here not just because he has agreed to walk up to the plate to the Fantasy Focus theme song, but because he's the hitter version of Tim Hudson. He's gonna hit for a high average and I've already talked about how no one respects runs scored. But check this out: Logan Morrison started his first game last year on July 27. From that day until the end of the season, only four, count them, four players in baseball had more runs scored than Logan's 43: Albert Pujols (54), Carlos Gonzalez (52), Jayson Werth (50) and Jose Bautista (47). Obviously, it's somewhat reliant on his teammates and a few others tied with Morrison's 43 runs, but still. Tied for fifth? As a rookie? He's an on-base machine who will hit for a good average, get tons of runs, have a little bit of pop and will be dirt cheap to get.
Anibal Sanchez, SP, Marlins (226.9): Finally healthy, finally kept the ball in the park (HR/9 under 0.5 for first time in his career), lowered his walk rate and a 3.32 FIP suggests he wasn't nearly as lucky as some folks have suggested.
Javy Vazquez, SP, Marlins (224): See Shields, James.
Ike Davis, 1B, Mets (211): If you don't grab a stud at first base, wait, wait and wait some more on first base, because there's lots of guys like Davis or Gaby Sanchez that are going really late. Solid, young first basemen who will hit 20 home runs with limited batting average issues and have some upside elsewhere. I can see the signs now. "I LIKE DAVIS!" Hmm. Seemed catchier in my mind.
Angel Pagan, OF, Mets (142.1): What do Andrew McCutchen, Corey Hart, Delmon Young, Nick Swisher, Shane Victorino and B.J. Upton have in common? Aside from all having never been in my kitchen? All of them finished below Pagan on our ESPN Player Rater last season. Argue he had a career year all you want and I'll agree with you. But even with some regression, he's significantly better than the 15th round, which is where he's going these days.
R.A. Dickey, SP, Mets (260)*: In 12 games at Citi Field last season, Dickey was 7-3 with a 1.99 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. The only pitchers better than Dickey at home last season in terms of ERA, minimum 60 innings pitched? Josh Johnson, Jaime Garcia, Adam Wainwright, Jered Weaver and David Price. That's high cotton there, kids. Yes, as a knuckleballer he's not gonna help strikeouts, but he's a great spot-starter type and just to give you a frame of reference; last year he was better than Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Dan Haren, Jaime Garcia and Phil Hughes, among others, on our player rater. His xERA was 3.51 and he definitely got some luck last year, so don't expect another ERA under three this year but Citi Field is a nice place for a pitcher and he's better than undrafted, which is where he's currently going. Heh heh. You said Dickey. Shut up, Beavis.
Ben Francisco, OF, Phillies (260)*: He's got the power, he's got the speed, he just needs the playing time. Domonic Brown is the name to own, but don't count out the Treat, as only I call Francisco.
Danny Espinosa, 2B, Nationals (260)*: He's gonna go 20/20 this year. We're just not sure if it'll be for the Nats or in Triple-A. Not for the risk-averse, because if he hits .250, it'll be a miracle, but the potential power and speed from your middle infield spot makes him a nice gamble to take late in your drafts.
Roger Bernadina, OF, Nationals (260)*: Speed, power, he's a plucky guy I've always liked. Just need the Nats to feel the same way.
Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Nationals (221.7): Can't spell Zimmerman without a K! Well, after this season, you won't.
Carlos Pena, 1B, Cubs (143.8): Super unlucky and injured last season, and you'll need to protect your batting average elsewhere. But 30 homers in the 15th round? See Vazquez, Javy.
Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs (161.4): Had 31 doubles last year. Among shortstops, that was better than Hanley Ramirez, Derek Jeter and one fewer than Troy Tulowitzki, for comparison. Added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, so maybe some of those doubles become homers. He's got 20-steal potential and is slated to bat second. Last season, he hit .307 from the two hole. Plus, think of all the time you'll save not having to watch the Gold Glove awards to see if your guy won.
Tyler Colvin, OF, Cubs (219.3): A very quiet 20-homer season in just about 350 at-bats. Has the speed to get 10-15 steals as well. And sooner than later the Cubs will smarten up and start playing him every day. He's not gonna help the average (he's a .250 hitter) but it's the 22nd round. Stop being so greedy. It's off-putting.
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds (59.5) An obvious name, but I'm putting him here because I can't believe he's going after Uggla and Kinsler. Do you know how many second basemen last year scored 100 runs and had at least 15 home runs and 15 steals? Only Brandon. Even with him slowing down a little, he's still a very solid option in the sixth.
Drew Stubbs, OF, Reds (111) The quietest 20/30 in history, he's my answer to the question, "Who could become this year's Carlos Gonzalez?"
Jonny Gomes, OF, Reds (260)*: An NL-only league play, and I'm preaching power where you can find it this year. I've always like Johnny Gomes. And I like to think he likes me, too.
Aroldis Chapman, RP, Reds (210.9): Should be one of the first setup guys off the board.
Brett Wallace, 1B, Astros (260)*: At the end of your NL-only draft you could do worse than a prospect who three teams really wanted, he said, ignoring that three teams gave him up. Hey, he's got two first names. That's gotta be worth something.
Wandy Rodriguez, SP, Astros (110.5): Injured early in the season, he finally became the Way-Rod (I'll get that nickname to stick if it's the last thing I do, dammit) we all drafted. In fact, post All-Star break, only two pitchers had more than his 101 strikeouts, only two pitchers (different ones) had an ERA lower than his 2.11 (minimum 80 innings pitched) and only 10 had a lower WHIP than his 1.04 (same minimum). He was all that and a bag of rosin and he's going two rounds too late.
Wilton Lopez, RP, Astros (260)*: Calling my shot now. Will lead the Astros in saves this season.
Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers (25.8): There's only a handful of guys who can hit 40 home runs, and this guy is one of them. You need at least one bopper in the year of no power and you can call it his contract year, the even/odd year thing or just a gut call -- none have any statistical basis -- but I feel he's due for a big year. He's going seventh among first basemen and that's too low. I have him behind Albert, Miggy, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez and soon-to-be-a-third-baseman Kevin Youkilis, and that's it.
Casey McGehee, 3B, Brewers (94.7): I'm gonna pump this stat for the next six weeks, so get used to it. June 1, 2009, is about when McGehee became a full-time starter. From that date through the entire 2010 season, only Alex Rodriguez has more RBIs among third basemen. He's hit .293 over that frame, is fifth in homers and ninth in runs. His totals for that span: .293 in 927 at-bats, 123 runs, 39 home runs, 167 RBIs. Evan Longoria over that same time frame? .279 in 959 at bats, 158 runs, 42 home runs, 162 RBIs. Yes, Longoria will steal (22 in that span) and McGehee won't (just one), but the difference in speed and runs (with lower batting average) isn't eight rounds. Just saying.
Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers (68.7): You believe or you do not. I do.
Shaun Marcum, SP, Brewers (116.7): As our profile notes, against non AL-East teams last season, Marcum went 12-2 with a 2.74 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 21 starts. The NL Central is a lot of things, but one thing it ain't is the AL East.
Yovani Gallardo, SP, Brewers (82.9): He's not my Vani. He's Yo-vani.
Chris Narveson, SP, Brewers (260)*: Deep NL-only pick, but he showed flashes in September. Which is different than flashing in September, although oddly, both involve chat roulette. He was 2-2 with a 3.13 ERA in six September starts, he had a 37-15 strikeout-to-walk rate in 37 1/3 inning pitched. Got unlucky some last year overall, but he did have a K/9 over seven.
Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates (120.7): Hit one HR every 21.7 at-bats last year. Among third basemen with at least 325 plate appearances last year, only four guys had a rate of 20 or better. Believe the hype.
Jose Tabata, OF, Pirates (218.2): You say Tabata, I say tomato. Speed, average, runs scored, an ex nuttier than anyone I've ever dated there's nothing Jose doesn't have. Except power. Or enough folks drafting him where he should be going, in the 10th or 11th.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates (39.2): All that and a Primanti Brothers Pitts-Burgher cheesesteak.
James McDonald, SP, Pirates (260)*: NL-only play who struck out 61 guys in the 64 innings he pitched with the Pirates last season, while walking just 24. Also, his granddad had a farm.
Evan Meek, RP, Pirates (260)*: From the team that brought you "Don't Pay for Saves" and "Draft High-Upside Setup Men," we present the new musical "And the Meek Shall Inherit the Role."
Ryan Theriot, SS, Cardinals (217): You could do a lot worse for your middle infield spot than a guy who will hit for a decent average, steal 20 bases and score a lot of runs hitting in front of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman. And if he winds up batting eighth, then you drop him with a shrug. It was a 22nd-round pick.
Colby Rasmus, OF, Cardinals (106): One thing I like to do a lot is something I call "blind résumés." It's always very popular. Anyway, here are two players:
Player A: .276 (464 at-bats), 85 runs, 23 home runs, 66 RBIs, 12 steals.
Player B: .277 (520 at-bats), 83 runs, 18 home runs, 72 RBIs, 11 steals.
One of them, Player A, is going in the 11th round. That's our pal, 24-year-old Colby Rasmus, who most likely will get to hit in front of Albert and the gang.
Player B, going in the fifth round, is 21-year-old Jason Heyward, whom I like a lot, but I'd just rather get six rounds later.
Jon Jay, OF, Cardinals (260)*: A plucky little guy who I like because of the good average, the two first names and the fact that he's playing behind Lance Berkman, not exactly Cal Ripken these days. Or, I guess, much more similar to Cal Ripken these days.
Jake Westbrook, SP, Cardinals (221.6)*: Not gonna win you any strikeout titles or make someone say "Dammit!" when you grab him, but a 3.48 ERA and 1.25 WHIP once he came to St. Louis? Dave Duncan has done more with less than Westbrook, so expect a strong spot starter in mixed leagues and a solid rotation guy in NL-only.
Juan Miranda, DH, Diamondbacks (260)*: Doesn't qualify at first base just yet, but will soon, when he gets his first shot at legit, consistent playing time. He's gonna hit a bunch of bombs or be sitting in Triple-A. The kind of late-round flier who wins leagues but won't lose them if he doesn't pan out.
Kelly Johnson, 2B, Diamondbacks (110.3): See Bautista, Jose, and change the number to 20.
Stephen Drew, SS, Diamondbacks (110.7): At worst, he'll be solid. At best? The power remains and they let him run.
Chris Young, OF, Diamondbacks (88.9): Last year? Not a fluke. Same rarely said about me.
Daniel Hudson, SP, Diamondbacks (150.3): As required by fantasy analyst decree.
Ian Stewart, 3B, Rockies (159.4): One of these years
Eric Young Jr., 2B, (260)* and Ty Wiggington, 1B/2B/3B (216)*: Neither has guaranteed playing time, but by the end of the year, Wiggy will wind up with 20 home runs one way or the other and EY2 will steal 20. Great, unsexy names for NL-only leagues.
Jason Hammel (260)*, Jorge De La Rosa (222.7) and Jhoulys Chacin (176.2), SPs, Rockies: I like all the Colorado pitchers this year. You've long known of my Ubaldo love, but Hammel is a solid NL-only guy who got a bit unlucky last season (improved his K/9 rate to better than 7 and had an xERA of 3.64), De La Rosa has lowered his ERA and WHIP every year since '06, with a K/9 of better than 8, and Chacin has the best stuff of any of them. Obviously 2010 was a good season, but he's got a chance to be great. He had 58 strikeouts in 60 innings pitched after the All-Star break along with a 2.75 ERA in August and a 1.78 ERA in September, showing what he's capable of.
Hiroki Kuroda, SP, Dodgers (147.5): Always underrated. Love him.
Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers (260)*: Might find himself in the closer mix depending on Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo, but regardless of role, he'll have value this year, especially in deeper leagues. He had 41 strikeouts in just 27 innings last year (along with a 0.67 ERA and 1.00 WHIP) after being recalled. And oh yeah, he pitches in Dodger Stadium.
Will Venable, OF, Padres (260): Once more with blind résumés.
Player A: .245 (392 at-bats), 60 runs, 13 home runs, 51 RBIs, 29 steals.
Player B: .259 (587 at-bats), 84 runs, 18 home runs, 69 RBIs, 34 steals.
Player A is my boyfriend, Will Venable, in 2010. Player B, who got basically 200 more at-bats, is Shane Victorino of the Phillies, currently going in the eighth round. While you expect Victorino's average to go up and Venable is probably gonna stay in the .250 range, it's fairly eye-opening, no? Podcast listeners know of my unhealthy Venable addiction. What can I say? I'm a sucker and back again, especially since he'll cost only a last-round pick or so. I will refrain from talking about Kyle Blanks here, but I still like him too, in NL-only. Sigh.
Padres starting pitching*: Other than Mat Latos, none of these guys are worth a draft pick except in deep NL-only, but if you're streaming, Clayton Richard, Aaron Harang and Tim Stauffer should be strong home starts.
Andres Torres, OF, Giants (194.4): See Johnson, Kelly.
Jonathan Sanchez, SP, Giants (125.3): Was on this list last year, too. You're welcome, Stockholm.
The Guys I Hate
Derrek Lee, 1B, Orioles (171): Quick quiz: What number of 22, 20, 35, 19 seems out of place to you? Because those are Lee's home run totals the past four years. His strikeouts increased last season (while his average dropped over 20 points) and at age 35, with a bad back, he's no sure thing. Basically, he's a 20-homer guy, and if you're looking for a 20-homer first baseman, I'd much rather the upside of a guy like Ike Davis or Gaby Sanchez.
Nick Markakis, OF, Orioles (136.3): The first ball hitting the leather. The first mowing of the grass. Spring has its perennial signs that baseball is back, including Nick Markakis on the Hate list. He's been here for four straight years now and I have yet to be wrong on him. He's never lived up to his draft position and this year will be no exception. Used to be it was the lack of anything beyond 20-homer power with the declining speed. Now it's the no speed along with the declining power. Hey, he has value. He'll hit for a high average over a lot of at-bats and if you read the Loves, you know I like the Baltimore offense a lot this year. But check this out.
Player A: .297 (629 at-bats), 79 runs, 12 HR, 60 RBIs, 7 SB.
Player B: .293 (580 at-bats) 84 runs, 12 HR, 66 RBIs, 5 SB.
Player A is young Nick Markakis. Player B? Marlon Byrd, currently going eight rounds after Markakis.
J.D. Drew, OF, Red Sox (209): He's actually fine as a fantasy player and finally being drafted where he should. I just don't like him personally. Never met the man. It's completely and totally irrational. And yet, here he is. J.D. Drew. The human equivalent of "bleah."
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox (58.6): You can get speed later and without the health risk.
Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Red Sox (97.6): Every year at least one big-name closer falls off the ledge for one reason or the other. Last year, Joe Nathan and Jonathan Broxton were the poster boys and I'm scheduling Paps for a photo shoot this preseason. Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks provide legit ninth-inning options if anything goes awry and the Sox won't have much patience with him. Last year, Papelbon had an ERA of almost 4 (more than a run worse than his previous career high), the most blown saves, losses and home runs and the highest WHIP allowed in his career. You're having to draft him as a top-7 closer and there's too many question marks for me to use a draft pick on him in the first 10 rounds.
Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees (56.8): I get the positional scarcity, but if you draft him, you've bailed on the power, you're hoping the average comes back and he at least keeps the speed in the teens. That's a lot of hoping for someone going in the sixth round ahead of guys like Alex Rios, Hunter Pence and Brandon Phillips.
A.J. Burnett, SP, Yankees (215): They gave him a new pitching coach with the theory being "Hey, he couldn't get worse." But what are you hoping for? He hasn't had an ERA under 4.00 in three seasons and his best year in the AL ever was 2007, when he had a 3.75 ERA. He has a career WHIP of 1.32 and, apart from the wins, which are impossible to predict, there's very little upside here to offset about two metric tons of downside.
Big Fat Bartolo Colon, P, Yankees (260): Until the end of time.
B.J. Upton, OF, Rays (70): Here's B.J.'s batting average the last three years, from oldest to most recent: .273, .241, .237. Here's his strikeouts the past three years, same order: 134, 152, 164. Defenders will point to his home runs over that time frame: 9, 11, 18. But I say, using my overly simplistic fantasy analysis calculator 3000, his average is suffering due to the power. So he's either a lock to kill my average or he's gonna get back to a respectable average by not swinging for the fences. Here's my issue: If I'm gonna sacrifice significant batting average for power, it's gotta be a 40-homer-potential guy like Adam Dunn or Mark Reynolds. It's not gonna be for a 20-homer guy. Yes, he steals 40 bags. But speed is plentiful this year; that's less of a commodity than usual. I'd much rather have Drew Stubbs, who has a very similar makeup, in the 11th.
Johnny Damon (228) and Manny Ramirez (175.7), OFs, Rays: Just stop. It's embarrassing at this point. Their marginal stats will be available on the free-agent wire all season long, just without famous names attached to them.
Jeremy Hellickson, SP, Rays (159.9): Instead of more words, why don't you watch this instructional video I made in which Eric Karabell argues for Hell Boy and I completely crush his logic like a grape. A tasty, Colorado-flavored grape that has the likeness of Jhoulys Chacin on it. So compelling was my argument that Eric spent the next several weeks in intense therapy. I know this because, when we were done, Eric said, "Good to see you, see you next week," in a way that clearly meant, "I'm going to go re-evaluate everything in my life I hold dear." Trust me. You had to be there. Or just watch and see for yourself. Hellickson's being overdrafted for a guy who gave up more than a home run a game in his only month of big league service.
Mark Buehrle, SP, White Sox (214): This probably seems a bit like I'm putting paste in the fat kid's hair. "Really, Berry? You 'hate' Mark Buehrle? A finesse pitcher in the 22nd round? What's next? Gonna take the controversial position of being anti-cancer and pro-puppies next?" And all fair points. I bring him up both because I think the rest of the White Sox are being drafted appropriately and also to make a larger point.
There's nothing inherently wrong with a guy like Buehrle. You know what you're getting. Double-digit wins and an ERA in the low 4s. But look, in a mixed league, especially in a 10-team one, you need to be swinging for the fences in Rounds 20-25. A guy like Buehrle will always be there in the free-agent pool. Oftentimes it will actually be Buehrle. But nothing is gained by drafting someone like that. Picks 20-25 should all be lottery tickets. Like here's some of the names being drafted significantly after MB: Brandon Webb, Jake Peavy, Jordan Zimmermann, Ervin Santana, Johan Santana, Javy Vazquez and, of course, Erik Bedard. Mmmm, Erik Bedard. You see a theme? It works out, great. It doesn't, so what? You can drop the bum and go pick up Mark Buehrle, whom by that point will have been dropped by whoever wasted their pick on him.
Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians (155.8): I know he's a trendy sleeper for a lot of folks, but I'm not buying. Forget the health, which is still a huge question mark. It's everything else. Part of his appeal back in the day was his power/speed combo, but that's not nearly as rare these days. His batting average the past five seasons (.290, .277, .268, .248, .211) does not give me high hopes, even if he can stay healthy.
Austin Jackson, OF, Tigers (203): You know about the crazy-high, unsustainable BABIP (.396), you know about 170 strikeouts, tied for fifth in the majors, and you've heard the rumors about his monthlong Himalayan goat sacrifice ceremony with Charlie Sheen. (Like there's anything involving Sheen that isn't at least remotely possible). But here's the part you don't know: The Detroit News reports that he added 10 pounds in the offseason and wants to work on his power. Great. That's what we need. A speed guy who already strikes out a lot swinging for the fences in spacious Comerica. Someone will reach based on last year and the hope for double-digit power, but this smells like disaster to me. And I know what that smells like. I co-wrote "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles."
Jeff Francoeur, OF, Royals (260): Sorry, still a little bitter.
Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins (61): He make anyone else nervous? Me too. The high reward is there and I hope I'm wrong on him, but I don't know. He's going between Hunter Pence and Andre Ethier, and that's a pretty expensive neighborhood for a guy we haven't even seen swing a bat as of this writing (March 4).
Michael Cuddyer, 1B, OF, Twins (187): Yawn.
Carl Pavano, SP, Twins (216): Got a little lucky last year and doesn't strike anyone out. You can't count on the wins and he's going ahead of guys with much higher ceilings (see the Mark Buehrle list) and with much less downside.
Vernon Wells, OF, Angels (125): Not just because I'm an Angels fan and we traded for the most untradable contract in history. Without getting money back. And giving up two productive players. No, I hate our GM for that one. I have Wells on this list because he's a career .226 hitter with just three home runs in 173 plate appearances at Angel Stadium (small sample size, but still, that and a lot of games at Safeco and Oakland aren't real exciting), plus he hasn't had back-to-back season of 20-plus home runs since 2005-06. He may steal a little more being on the Angels and maybe I'm just being a pessimistic Angels fan and he'll probably be fine. But maybe I'm right. There's no upside here and lots of downside. No thanks.
Jered Weaver, SP, Angels (70.1): Uncle Lester never said, "Don't pay for a career year" but he could have. And he'd have been right. He'll be very good, but he won't be great and you're paying for great.
Kurt Suzuki, C, A's (208): More than 1,700 plate appearances the last three years and almost all of them as a catcher. Hit only three home runs after the break (along with a .233 average) last season despite getting slightly more at-bats than in first half. At worst, he's wearing down in a big way. At best, he returns to what he was: a low double-digit homer guy with no upside.
Trevor Cahill, SP, A's (169.1): Led the majors last season with a .236 BABIP. In between "Matthew Berry lucky" and "Whoever is dating Scarlett Johansson lucky" is young Trevor Cahill, who won't strike out anyone, is an iffy proposition for wins and won't have an ERA under 3 anytime soon.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers (48.6): It's always something with Kinsler. The health concerns are always there (he's averaged 124 games a season in his five-year career) and last year, the power went away. The year before it was his average. He's more risky than Brandon Phillips and yet he'll cost a lot more at your auction.
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers (43.2): Already starting the year off injured? I'm nervous. If I can get him in the sixth or seventh, I'm all over it. But in the fourth or fifth? Too pricey for me.
Jason Heyward, OF, Braves (45.1): See Rasmus, Colby.
Josh Johnson, SP, Marlins (65.5): Super simple. When Stephania Bell has major injury concerns about you, I have major injury concerns about you.
Jason Bay, OF, Mets (162.4): This is what I wrote about Bay in last year's Love/Hate: "I tend not to like a guy changing leagues, he's a career .269 hitter versus the NL East (over 600 at-bats) and you expect the power to be somewhat sapped due to Citi Field. According to Katron.org's balls-in-play location data, 12 of the 15 home runs he hit at Fenway last season would have been outs at Citi. He hasn't stolen more than 13 bases since 2005 and at age 31, not sure I see that changing. I don't know. Most of the numbers you read will tell you he's gonna be fine, and I won't argue with that other than to say, call it a gut feeling or whatever you want, there's just a lot of other guys I'd rather have in Round 5."
He's now a year older, coming off a fairly significant injury and there's nothing to suggest the power bounces back, he hits for a high average or steals any bases. If he can even stay healthy.
Roy Halladay, SP, Phillies (7.3): So, when my editor Pierre Becquey asked for some players who would be on my Love and Hate lists so he could order art, I told him Halladay would be on the Hate list this year. His response: "Is this your 'clever' way to tell people to wait on pitching, and the banner first-rounder happens to be Halladay and the shock value is too good to pass up?"
What can I say? The man knows me well. Look, Halladay is a stud, of course, but I can't justify a first-round pick on him and frankly, I might not even take him until the very end of the second, if at all, because pitching is so deep this year. I mean, guys like Matt Cain are going in the eighth round. Personally, I'm gonna get one stud in the first five rounds (ideally Jon Lester in the third) and then I'm waiting until Round 9 or 10 to fill out my staff.
Let's play a game. Say you filled out your offense in the first seven rounds. If you waited until Round 8 to take a pitcher and then took two pitchers and then alternated picks between offense and pitching, here's the staff you could end up with: Matt Cain, Yovani Gallardo, Max Scherzer or Wandy Rodriguez, Jonathan Sanchez or Ted Lilly as your four, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes or Daniel Hudson as your No. 5 and then someone like Josh Beckett or Jhoulys Chacin as your No. 6.
When I say pitching is deep, I mean pitching is KA-RAZY deep.
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies (62.2): He's missed 106 games the past three years, so, you know, if you have that as a category, go right ahead. Otherwise, his power has been significantly lessened recently (a lot more ground balls doesn't help) and his average has been .250 or under for two straight years. I know he's a trendy sleeper to rebound for some. I'm not buying.
Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs (211): He doesn't run anymore but at least he hits for a low average, so he's got that going for him.
Scott Rolen, 3B, Reds (223.4): When we say, "Don't pay for a career year," we're usually talking about a player still near or in his prime, such as Jared Weaver. When we say, "Don't pay for a guy's best season six years removed from his career years," we may as well be talking about Rolen.
Carlos Lee, OF, Astros (134): I remember being in love with Kim Delaney when she was on "NYPD Blue." Then, she did a guest arc on "The O.C." and Peter Gallagher had to go "Sir Olivier" in his acting to make you believe he was thinking of cheating on his wife for someone who sort of looked like Kim Delaney's overweight brother. Sometimes, when the end comes, it happens quickly and it isn't pretty.
Zack Greinke, SP, Brewers (41.9): It's not just the whole "pitching is deep" rap, it's where he's being drafted. I like him fine, and think being on a team that can win games will help. But ahead of guys such as Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Verlander and Chris Carpenter? You can't tell me he has less risk than any of those guys. He's had 200 strikeouts only once, his career WHIP is 1.26 and his career ERA is 3.82. His K/9 went down from 9.5 to 7.4 last year. I expect his numbers to be better in the NL, but not significantly. He's gonna be a very good No. 2 fantasy pitcher this year. Problem is, he's being drafted like a No. 1.
Mat Latos, SP, Padres (65.3): Don't get me wrong. I love the guy; he was a sleeper for me last year. But that offense in San Diego is going to be awful and the massive increase in innings (184 2/3 last year, 123 in '09, majors and minors combined) scares me. He seemed to wear down toward the end (6.21 ERA in six September starts) and while I think he'll be good, he won't be top-15, which is where we have him ranked.
Maaaaaaattheeeeeeeeew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is still climbing that mountain. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. He is a charter member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend