Thursday, March 12, 2009

You need to plot an A-Rod strategy before you draft

By Anthony Fenech • Free Press Special Writer

In the world of fantasy baseball, there are no absolutes.

Players who aren’t supposed to get hurt will get hurt. Players who are expected to break out won’t break out. Players you didn’t think juiced will admit to juicing. You get the point.

But as we approach the stretch run of the 2009 draft season, there is one absolute that you can count on: Alex Rodriguez will find you.

He’ll find you at the beginning of rounds and at the end of rounds. He’ll find you anywhere from the first to the fourth round, and he might even stop by to introduce himself in the second round just so you don’t forget about him in the third -- if he’s there.

A-Rod was a player whose name had “sure thing” attached to it. In years past, his name flew off of the draft board within the top three picks, many times as the No. 1 selection.

This year, in light of Monday’s hip surgery that will sideline him six weeks or more, owners will agonize until the last second about whether the risk is worth it. Many will pass, and few will capitalize.

To explain, let’s rewind to last spring, when St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols was in a similar injury bubble.

In the weeks leading up to the draft, it was no secret that there was a torn ligament in Pujols' elbow. After dealing with it through the latter half of 2007, Pujols muttered the three dreaded words -- playing through injury -- in the spring.

In meteorological terms, the elbow was more of a warning than a watch. In fantasy terms, Pujols was a ticking time bomb, an early round pick that would destroy an entire team by going to waste halfway through the season.

Owner after owner passed on the slugger. Naturally, Pujols went on to play a relatively injury-free 2008 campaign (the only hiccup was a strained calf that sat him out for just over two weeks in June) and proved to be the most valuable hitter in fantasy baseball.

This year, it’s A-Rod’s turn. The situation is different because he has been all but ruled out for the first month of the season but similar because of the off-season surgery that doctors say is required to complete the procedure.

Last season, Rodriguez missed 25 games, mostly due to a quadriceps injury. That roughly equates to about a month of play. Even with the month lost, he still belted 35 homers, tops among third base-eligible players this season.

For the price you may be able to get him at now -- Rodriguez dropped from first to 31st in’s March 5 rankings -- it would be a wise choice to throw all of the extracurricular distractions out of the window and plainly debate risk and reward.

Is the reward you get from Rodriguez performing like a top-five player worth that second- or third-round pick? Or is the risk of the injury making him an average performer too costly?

If it’s the former, who will you draft that will get you through the first month at third base? If it’s the latter, can you handle second-guessing yourself for an entire summer?

You might pass on him once, you might pass on him twice or you might pass on him altogether. You might stick your neck out and reap the rewards or get laughed at.

But one thing’s for sure: A-Rod is going to find you. He’s going to be yours for the taking at one point in your draft, and you had better be prepared for meeting him.

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