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Dear Mr. Fantasy: Should you run with Samardzija?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Barely a week into the season, Fantasy owners are already wanting answers.

Is Brian Matusz really as bad as he looked against the Yankees on Monday? Can Yoenis Cespedes continue this pace? Was Lorenzo Cain a waste of a draft pick?

I don't know! And the truth is nobody knows. I have my hunches, obviously, but they're mostly based on how much I liked or didn't like a player before the season even started. Anything beyond that is the proverbial throw at the dartboard. It'll provide an answer, sure, but is an insincere answer really better than no answer at all?

And it's not like those are the only two options here. We can still have an insightful Fantasy discussion at this point in the season. We just can't lose sight of what we honestly do know and don't know.

Is Jeff Samardzija the real deal? Should I drop Matt Harrison for him? -- Mike Down (via Twitter)

SW: Yes? No? Do I really have to go there already?

I can give you an absolute answer -- a simple yes or no -- if that's what you want, but I don't think it's the most helpful advice right now. He's made only one start. Every good pitcher is capable of a bad start, and every bad pitcher is capable of a good start. So going out on a limb and declaring him a good or bad starter based on only the one start would be ignorant to the way the sport works, even if my conclusion ended up being the right one.

Playing the guessing game this early in the season is nothing short of reckless. As a Fantasy owner, I prefer to base my decisions on what I know. Do I know Samardzija's stellar debut is the first step in what will end up being a breakthrough season? Of course not. But I know both his pedigree and arsenal suggest he has that kind of potential, and now that he's lasted 8 2/3 innings in a start, I know he's capable of pitching deep into ballgames even though he has been almost exclusively a reliever over the last few years.

I also know that if I don't pick him up now, when everyone, including myself, is still wondering if he's the real deal, I may not get another chance. He may be just as dominant next time out, someone else may beat me to the punch, and the rest may indeed be history.

So what do I know about Harrison? I know he got his walks and home runs under control last year and emerged as a serviceable Fantasy option for the high-scoring Rangers, making up for a mediocre WHIP and strikeout rate with an impressive win-loss record. But I know that's probably as good as it gets for him since I know his pure stuff doesn't even compare to Samardzija's.

So if I know I play in a standard mixed league where I know middle-of-the-road options like Harrison (or R.A. Dickey or Tim Stauffer) will be available on the waiver wire if I ever need one, why wouldn't I take my one and only shot on a guy who could have the potential for more? By standing pat, I wouldn't be making the most of all the knowledge at my disposal.

You know?

Look, if you play in a league so deep that if you cut Harrison now you may never have another shot at a serviceable big-league starter, then maybe a safe-not-sorry approach makes sense. But considering Samardzija is still available, I'm guessing you don't, and if that's the case, you should be shooting for the stars right now.

What do you think of Jason Heyward this year? I drafted him but hated doing it. He strikes out too much and might sit against lefties when Chipper Jones comes back so that both Martin Prado and Matt Diaz can be in the lineup. I want to get rid of him. If I traded him, who could I get who has more upside? I don't know if I really want to drop him for Torii Hunter or Alex Rios, but I'm not liking Heyward. -- Chris Dipesa (via e-mail)

SW: First of all, I don't know how someone with such a low opinion of Heyward ended up with him in the first place. He was a popular middle-round sleeper given his potential for a rebound season -- and, yes, his upside -- so I'm surprised a believer didn't beat you to the punch.

As for that upside and who has more, keep in mind Heyward was the No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America in 2010, ranking ahead of Stephen Strasburg. He had a stellar rookie season that resulted in a .393 on-base percentage and a starting nod in the All-Star game, and at age 22, he still has plenty of growth ahead of him. I'd say consensus first-rounders like Ryan Braun and Jacoby Ellsbury have more upside since they've already done what the scouts think Heyward could do, but among the players you could reasonably acquire in a straight-up trade for Heyward, he wins the upside argument.

That said, I understand your frustration with him. He was obviously a colossal disappointment last year and didn't have the most encouraging spring. But keep in mind he rebuilt his swing from the ground up in the offseason, correcting the mechanical flaws that developed in his attempt to play through a shoulder injury last year. He deserves the benefit of an adjustment period and began to come around toward the end of spring training, batting .400 (6 for 15) with two homers over his final six games.

Does he strike out a little more than preferred? Sure, but that's not unusual for a young player, and at least when he's going well, he walks enough to make up for it. Did the Braves sit him occasionally against left-handers last year? Yeah, but only in the second half, when it was clear he wouldn't come out of his tailspin so easily. He's too important to their plans both in the short- and long-term for them to resort to that approach so early in the season.

Naturally, because he comes with so much uncertainty, you'll find safer options than Heyward, and you wouldn't be out of your mind to trade him for one of them -- say, a Nick Markakis or Corey Hart type. But because he still is as high-upside as they come, cutting Heyward for whatever scraps your league left on the table is downright crazy.

I can see Omar Infante being a big-time Fantasy sleeper this year. He already has three home runs! -- Matt Moore (via Twitter)

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SW: Well, that's obviously one opinion. Another is that he'll be like the 2009 version of Ryan Theriot, who hit five home runs over the first six weeks only to finish the season with seven.

Infante is a 30-year-old in his 11th big-league season. Those players don't suddenly change. It'd be one thing if he was getting his first real opportunity to start in the majors after showing good power on a per-at-bat basis as a reserve, but Infante was more or less an everyday player the last two years. And during that time, he averaged 7.5 homers with a .397 slugging percentage.

His bat isn't completely devoid of power, but his game is all about bat control, much like Placido Polanco, who himself has had three double-digit-homer seasons. I could see Infante finishing with double-digit homers this season, especially since he has a nice head start, but I'm thinking he'll be closer to 10 or 11 than 17 or 18.

It'll be enough to make him relevant in mixed leagues for sure, but not enough to make him a big-time Fantasy sleeper. He's still more of a batting average specialist than anything else.

I have James Shields, Max Scherzer, Francisco Liriano and Sergio Santos in my 10-team mixed league. Someone tell me I shouldn't panic. -- Marc Bunn (via e-mail)

SW: You shouldn't panic. No, really.

Through one start last year, Cole Hamels had a 20.25 ERA, Madison Bumgarner had a 9.00 ERA, and Jon Lester had an 8.44 ERA. Safe to say they turned out OK.

As I said earlier, every good pitcher is capable of a bad start, and every bad pitcher is capable of a good start. Chances are both will deliver some of both over the course of a season. When it happens at the beginning of the season, it obviously stands out more, but it's not any more significant.

True, of Shields, Scherzer and Liriano, the only one on the level of Hamels, Bumgarner and Lester right now is Shields, who finished third in AL Cy Young voting last year, but all three still offer too much promise for you to dismiss them after only one start.

Shields, with his three walks in five innings, was clearly lacking his greatest asset -- command of the strike zone -- in his first start. It's like he wasn't himself out there, so you can't even begin to assess who he'll be this year. Scherzer's strikeout potential on a team that figures to give him plenty of run support still makes him a significant Fantasy asset, and Liriano's spring, when he posted a 33-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 innings, is still encouraging enough for a player with his upside and history that he deserves a free pass after only one start.

As for Santos, yeah, you have good reason to feel a little iffy about him right now. He's less than proven as a closer, having only one year of experience in the role, and has Francisco Cordero and his 327 career saves setting up for him. But remember that after only three appearances last year, John Axford, who also had limited experience in the role, also had a 15.43 ERA, and he ended up being a top-three closer in Fantasy.

Santos averaged 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings last year. He has electric stuff and only one genuinely awful appearance so far this season. When the Blue Jays start talking about making a change, that's when you should worry. Otherwise, I'm still happy with him as my second reliever.

I'd love your opinion on a trade. I'd be giving up Yadier Molina and Lucas Duda for Goldschmidt. I love the potential offensive production from Goldy, but am I giving up too much? -- Jameson Goodchild (via Facebook)

SW: You're asking the wrong guy here, Jameson. I prefer Duda to Goldschmidt straight-up -- and not just by a little -- so, yeah, throw Molina in there, and you're definitely giving up too much.

The Duda-Goldschmidt debate seems to be a pretty common one for Fantasy owners, probably because of the two players' similarities. Both put up stellar minor-league ratios but didn't get the prospect hype to go along with it, which meant neither was a can't-miss option when he reached the majors. What distinguishes Duda from Goldschmidt, I think, is that he has been the more productive player so far in their careers -- and with a much more trustworthy sample of at-bats.

Plus, he doesn't strike out as much, which leads me to believe he'll have less trouble adapting to major-league pitching, as the numbers seem to suggest.

Go ahead and take a second look at those numbers. Duda hit .304 with nine homers and a .900 OPS in 181 at-bats after taking over for Carlos Beltran last season, which is pretty much exactly the kind of player he was in the minors. With the Mets also raving about his ability at every turn this spring, how could you not buy into him as a breakout candidate? No doubt, Goldschmidt is a breakout candidate as well, but you won't find as much evidence suggesting his is on the horizon.

As for Molina, obviously his role in this deal is irrelevant if I've sold you on Duda over Goldschmidt. But just for good measure, his emerging power potential combined with his consistently high batting average makes him far better than anything you'll find on the waiver wire in a two-catcher Rotisserie league, and his low strikeout rate helped make him a top-eight catcher in one-catcher Head-to-Head leagues last year. Safe to say he's better than most people realize.

While I drafted for offense, pitchers were the ones going early and often. By the fifth round, the elites and near-elites were all off the board, leaving me with a pitching staff of Daniel Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Michael Pineda (DL slot), Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Trevor Cahill, Jhoulys Chacin, Phil Hughes, Chris Sale, Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon, Jose Valverde and Trevor Bauer (minor-league slot). Should I sit tight, or should I pick up one of these free agents: Henderson Alvarez, Homer Bailey, Brian Matusz, Juan Nicasio and Chris Capuano? -- Rob Ludwig (via e-mail)

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SW: Wow, you really got burned by those third-tier starting pitchers, didn't you? Any other combination of that group -- Madison Bumgarner, Ricky Romero and Adam Wainwright, for instance, or Matt Cain, Josh Johnson and Mat Latos, let's say -- would instill me with more confidence than your particular trio.

For Hanson and Pineda, my concerns should be obvious. Hudson doesn't so much concern me, but he lacks the ceiling of some of the others in that group and is less than desirable as the ace of a Fantasy team.

That said, Beachy's strikeout rate makes him a starter more weeks than not, and there's no shame in starting McCarthy either. Cahill and Sale are probably must-own pitchers right now, and Chacin, Minor and Hughes at least offer some upside. If nothing else, you have a workable staff, but because Hudson is the only pitcher you can trust on an every-week basis, you'll need the ability to mix and match. You'll need to make up for your lack of quality with quantity.

Currently, you have 10 usable starting pitchers on your roster, so you seem to have the right idea. The question is whether or not they're the best 10 for you.

Among the free-agent options, the one I'd immediately dismiss as a viable option is Capuano. He's a competent major-league pitcher, but he's hittable and has no room for growth at age 33. When attempting to fashion a competitive starting rotation from the ground up, you need more than just competent. You need game-changers.

Alvarez, Bailey, Matusz and Nicasio all have game-changing ability. We've already seen it in action for Alvarez and Nicasio. Bailey's and Matusz's first starts didn't go as well, but both still have the stuff to make it happen and are still young enough at age 25 to turn the corner statistically. If I had to rank the four right now, I'd go Matusz, Alvarez, Nicasio and Bailey. Bailey is last because of his lack of job security, and Matusz is first because of strikeout ability.

So who do you drop? Notice I didn't mention Colon when singing the praises of your current pitching staff. He'll be usable at times in mixed leagues, but his lack of durability and limited ceiling at age 38 makes him the least desirable of your pitchers. I'd go ahead and drop him for Matusz. I like Alvarez and Nicasio enough that I'd be willing to drop Hughes and Minor for them. Hughes lacks job security with Pineda and Andy Pettitte both waiting in the wings, and Minor doesn't have enough of a track record at the major-league level to deserve so much loyalty after a shaky first start.

Is Adam LaRoche for LaReal? -- Lucas Terrell (via Twitter)

SW: LaRiiight.

LaRoche is 32 and in his ninth big-league season, which means, as was the case with Omar Infante, he pretty much is who he is.

The good news is that's not such a bad thing. From 2005 to 2010, he averaged 24.7 homers and 87.3 RBI, which are obviously worthwhile numbers in Fantasy, but at first base, they don't really stand out. Considering LaRoche is also frustratingly streaky and tends to strike out at a high rate, he's on the waiver wire more often than not in standard mixed leagues.

One thing his hot start does show me is that he won't suffer any long-lasting effects from last season's shoulder surgery, which is always a concern for a power hitter. It also reassures me that his poor performance before submitting to the surgery last season was the result of playing with a torn labrum and rotator cuff and not the beginning of a premature decline.

Because LaRoche is historically a streaky player, he's worth picking up and starting while he's hitting well if you have a need at first base. But I doubt most Fantasy owners have a need at that position this early in the season.

With Chipper Jones and Allen Craig coming off DL in an NL-only league, which two should I drop: Tyler Colvin, Jordan Schafer, David Hernandez, Chris Johnson, Trevor Bauer or Homer Bailey? -- John Muir (via Twitter)

SW: Nice to get a deeper-league question every now and then.

I'm going to assume this is a Rotisserie league, which means you wouldn't want to drop a steals specialist like Schafer even if he doesn't figure to hit all much. Of course, if it is a Rotisserie league, you wouldn't want to drop an everyday player anyway. Rotisserie lineups are so large that you just don't see any of that kind on the waiver wire.

By that standard, Jones and Johnson are out of the discussion as well, which leaves us with Craig, Colvin, Hernandez, Bauer and Bailey. Because Bailey is a borderline mixed-league option, I think you have to stick with him even though I'm not completely confident he'll help you in ERA and WHIP. Also, while Craig isn't exactly an everyday player, the Cardinals will find creative ways to get him in the lineup. And if this year is anything like last year, he'll deliver the numbers to back it up.

I could see you dropping any two of Colvin, Hernandez and Bauer, depending on your specific needs. If you're a J.J. Putz owner, you need Hernandez as a handcuff option since saves are so hard to come by in especially deep Fantasy formats. If you're desperate for an outfielder, Colvin will provide some pop if someone goes down, but I don't see him getting many at-bats otherwise. Bauer is probably my favorite of the three from a pure talent standpoint, but because he's no guarantee to come up this year (or to perform well when he does), he's not beyond cutting even in NL-only leagues.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also check us out on Facebook or e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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