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Dear Mr. Fantasy: Now is the time for reflection

Senior Fantasy Writer
  •  

Beep, beep, beep, beep, beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee ...

"We're losing him!"

"It's not working! We need the defibrillator!"

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Gweeeeeeeeee ...

"Clear!"

... CHOK!

"It's no use! He has to want to come back!"

"Once they leave for Fantasy Football, they never come back!"

"Who would come back for this, guys!? Who would come back!?"

"NO! I'm not losing another!"

Gweeeeeeeeee ...

"Clear!"

... CHOK!

"Forget it, man! It's over! It's over."

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee ...

Sadly, this sort of tragedy happens all too often. Fantasy Football comes a-knocking about mid-August and those already condemned to a losing record are too weak to resist its call.

But the tragedy isn't so much that they leave. It's that they don't come back. They don't pay a second thought to Fantasy Baseball until March, and by then, their memories of 2012 have pretty much turned to vapor.

If those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, then all you accomplish by turning tail now is more of the same misery next year. So instead of giving in to the allure of something promising and new, take some time -- healthy, meaningful time -- to wallow in your sorrows. Reflect on what went wrong and what you can do to prevent it next time. It's the only way you get better.

Did you place too much emphasis on position scarcity, or not enough? Did you overvalue a particular attribute that turned out to be not such a big deal? Did you have the right distribution of hitters to pitchers? Were you too aggressive on the waiver wire early, dropping some of your best players before they had a chance to find their footing, or were you too passive, waiting too long on players who were nothing more than rolls of the dice in the first place? Did you go too young? What about too old? Did you have too many options at a particular position, forcing you to rely on in-season predictions that too often fall victim to small sample sizes? Could you have made better use of that excess on the trade market? Did you simply have bad luck with a few too many picks and would only be overcompensating by changing something now, or did you leave yourself too vulnerable to luck by being too reliant on upside or too dismissive of injury risk?

Only you can say for sure. Only you can know what your intentions were and what resulted from them. And sometimes, the answers aren't as obvious as they appear at first glance. If you suffered from bad pitching all year, take the time to understand why. Check out your pitchers' numbers side by side to see if they have a common flaw that you conveniently ignored. Go back to your league's draft results to see where you drafted them and if the alternatives for those same rounds would have been better. Think back to the pitchers you valued most on Draft Day and ask yourself if these are them or just the ones who happened to be at the top of the rankings at the time you drafted them. Think about it. Just stop and think, and when you're satisfied with your findings, you can turn your attention to Fantasy Football.

And you should, because it's awesome. Just make sure you're not using it as an escape for what went wrong here. Contrary to popular belief, now is the time you improve your Fantasy game, not next spring.

I'm in a 12-team Head-to-Head dynasty league and have worked my butt off to build a monster team that I think should win every single season. Omitting the prospects, here's breakdown of my roster. At catcher, I have Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Doumit. At first base, I have Paul Konerko and Eric Hosmer. At second base, I have Dustin Pedroia and Danny Espinosa. At shortstop, I have Elvis Andrus. At third base, I have Ryan Zimmerman and David Freese. In the outfield, I have Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz, Desmond Jennings and Carl Crawford. And at pitcher, I have Justin Verlander, C.J. Wilson, James Shields, Ian Kennedy, Adam Wainwright, Doug Fister, Matt Moore, Lance Lynn, Ryan Dempster, Francisco Liriano, Ricky Nolasco and Brandon Morrow. Now, I'll admit I've had trouble picking the right starters each week, but how is my record 9-10? Am I doing something wrong here? -- Rob DeCapua (via e-mail)

SW: I understand you're not quite out of the playoff picture, but the self-assessment is still important for next year.

To a certain extent, your sub-.500 record is a product of bad luck. Though you certainly have some big names here that should, in theory, give you one of the strongest teams in the league, so many of those names have spent so much time on the DL or endured such lengthy slumps that they've had you handicapped pretty much all season.

Your only consistent performers from start to finish have been Andrus, Braun and Verlander -- great players, all of them, with Braun and Verlander in the discussion for best hitter and best pitcher, respectively. But they can't do it all on their own, and for stretches this season, they've had to.

The regression for Hosmer, Jennings and Moore has been disappointing. The general inconsistency for Cruz, Wilson, Kennedy, Wainwright, Lynn and Dempster has been frustrating. The DL stints for Pedroia, Bautista, Crawford, Fister and Morrow have been discouraging. But those haven't even been your most debilitating misfortunes.

Every player goes through slumps during the season. It's something you should anticipate in Fantasy. But Konerko, Zimmerman and Shields haven't just underperformed during their slumps, they've been unusable. Granted, Zimmerman and Shields have since turned it around, but now they're just picking up the slack for Bautista and Konerko.

And let's not overlook the side effect of their struggles. For a good three months this year, Zimmerman and Shields were having a negative impact on your lineup. Surely you noticed at some point, which means surely you benched them at some point. But that only compounded the problem. Because you committed to sitting them when they were down, you inevitably missed a percentage of what they delivered when they came back around. You couldn't predict when it would happen, after all. You had to wait and see. So if you got most of the bad and missed some of the good, you have to figure the net result is bad.

Which leads me to my next observation. Here, in your own words, is the biggest thing you're doing wrong, Rob: "I'll admit I've had trouble picking the right starters each week."

You're tinkering, and if you tinker with high-end options, which you seem to have at least one of at each position, more often than not, you lose.

I can understand you benching Zimmerman and Shields. It was so ugly for them for so long that you really had no other choice. The side effect was unfortunate, but you can chalk it up to bad luck. Any other questionable lineup maneuvers are probably more a case of over-managing, though.

The biggest mistake any Fantasy owner can make is to get caught up in streaks. Not every player can be at his best every week. It's ludicrous to expect it. On certain occasions, you might have reason to try the hot hand off the waiver wire, but only in place of mediocrity. You have so many high-end options that it should never be a consideration for you.

Every week, provided every player is at full health, your lineup should look like this: Ruiz, Konerko, Pedroia, Andrus, Zimmerman, Bautista, Braun and Jennings, with Cruz in the utility spot. I could see you rotating Crawford and Hosmer in for Jennings and Cruz based on matchups, but that's it. Get any cuter than that, and you'll end up chasing your tail.

It's a little trickier at starting pitcher because, for the most part, you want to take advantage of the two-start weeks, but your go-to five should be Verlander, Shields (at least right now), Wilson, Wainwright and Kennedy. Fister is so hot right now that I could see you swapping him in for the struggling Kennedy, particularly in the right matchups. I could also see Morrow, Lynn and Moore getting looks during two-start weeks. But that's it. The others are so far off talent-wise that they shouldn't even sniff your lineup.

If you miss out on the good weeks from the high-end players, you miss out on what separates them from the low-end players. By playing the guessing game with them, you end up doing your team more harm than good.

Which two of Alex Cobb, Patrick Corbin and Kris Medlen should I pick up? -- justinsawa (via Twitter)

SW: Let's go with Corbin and Medlen here.

Medlen is the most obvious of the three now that the Braves have confirmed they'll go with a six-man rotation for the next couple weeks. They did it seemingly for no other reason than to buy Medlen more time in the rotation, which tells you just how good he's been since shifting from the bullpen. His strikeout potential is modest, but he's extremely efficient with his pitches and a safe bet to help in ERA and WHIP.

Of course, Cobb has been pretty economical with his pitches as well, walking just three batters in his last four starts, and I wouldn't have a problem with anyone choosing to pick him up right now. But I give Corbin the nod over him for two reasons:

1. He's a better bet for strikeouts, having maintained a high rate throughout his minor-league career.
2. He's a better bet to keep his job.

Yes, for as well as Cobb has pitched lately, he'll presumably be the odd man out when Jeff Niemann is finally ready to return from a broken leg. Forgot about him? It's easy to do considering he hasn't pitched since May 14. But he has begun a minor-league rehab assignment and might need only three more starts before rejoining the big club.

Of course, no one can say for sure Niemann won't be the one to go to the bullpen if Cobb continues to pitch well, but when comparing two alike pitchers, job security has to enter the discussion.

What do you think of Eric Stults? I'm thinking about picking him up for his next start. -- @seawrighttttt (via Twitter)

SW: What happened with the Twitter handle there? Did the "T" key get stuck? I don't know about you, but I think I would have gone the backspace route in that case just so I didn't have to worry about having one of these back-and-forths on the phone one day:

"It's, uh, seawrighttttt, with four extra Ts."

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...

"No, four extra. Five total."

...

"S-E-A-W-R-I-G-H-T-T-T-T-T."

...

"No, 'T' as in turquoise ... yeah ... yeah."

...

"Right ... right ... no, wait -- that's not right. It's 'wright,' but not 'right.' It's, uh ... it's wrong."

...

"S-E-A-W-R-I-G-H-T."

...

"... -T-T-T-T. That's right. It's also wright."

...

"Ah-ha-ha-ha. Yeah, you got it. Riiight."

...

"All right. See you on Twitter."

And just like that, what should have been a five-second conversation instead lasted three minutes.

Speaking of inefficient, that's pretty much Stults in a nutshell, judging by his minor-league track record. I understand he managed to go 7 2/3 innings in a start Monday, giving him a 2.49 ERA in seven starts this season, and I'm happy for him. But those aren't the kind of numbers you can expect a 32-year-old journeyman to sustain -- especially not one who's spent almost his entire career in the minors, where he's surrendered 10.3 hits per nine innings and compiled a 1.49 WHIP.

If those numbers sound familiar to you, it's because they're basically Carlos Silva's. If you don't remember him, then that tells you something right there. If you do, then you're probably having to resist the urge to gag right now.

If Silva's numbers against major-leaguers can provoke that sort of response, what should Stults' numbers against minor-leaguers do?

And for all the time Stults spent in the minors, it's not like those numbers have been warped by his earlier years, before he made some crucial change that allowed him to maximize his abilities. He's pretty much been that hittable forever and always.

OK, so I'm assuming the "always," but I think it's a pretty safe assumption given his history. And though I don't generally have a problem with anyone riding the hot hand, you're playing with fire when it comes to Stults. When he crashes, he'll crash hard -- and perhaps at a time when you can least afford it.

I'm coming up on a huge decision in my 12-team league. In it, each team keeps four players. I have Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, Ian Kinsler, Edwin Encarnacion, Matt Cain and Giancarlo Stanton, who if I don't keep, I'll never see again. Your thoughts? -- Chris Laettner (via e-mail)

SW: Not to be confused with Christian Laettner, I presume? Oh, heck. Let's create a little confusion. It can only help the page views.

I can make this dilemma much simpler for you by eliminating Encarnacion from consideration. And I think that's fair. I'm not saying nobody should keep him. He has performed like an elite player this season and, at age 29, could have more of these seasons ahead. But when assessing his value for next season, you can't compare him to perennial early-rounders like Hamilton, Votto, Kinsler, Stanton and Cain. Those players are as safe as safe gets, and above all, Fantasy owners aim for "safe" with their early-round picks. So while Encarnacion's numbers compare favorably with theirs and may continue to do so, he'll slip further in drafts just so no one makes the mistake of overpaying for a one-hit wonder. It's basically what happened to Alex Gordon, Michael Morse and Melky Cabrera this year. And while none have turned out to be busts, two of the three have fallen short of last year's numbers.

Plus, Encarnacion loses third base eligibility in the offseason. As a first baseman, he's still good, but not so good that you can't expect him to last a round or two into next year's draft.

Of the remaining five, Votto and Kinsler are obvious keepers. When healthy, they're arguably the best at their positions, so let's just go ahead and give them two of the slots. That means you have to leave out one of Hamilton, Stanton and Cain, and though you could make a case for any of them, my choice is Cain.

I don't like keeping pitchers. It's one of my most well-documented opinions over the years. They're at higher risk for injury. Their numbers tend to fluctuate from season to season. They're just dangerous, and again, more than anything else in early rounds, you want "safe."

Of course, Hamilton isn't exactly the best counter to those problems. He's at high risk of injury, and his numbers tend to fluctuate from season to season. If the dilemma was between him and a no-doubter ace like Jered Weaver, you'd keep Weaver instead. But Cain, for as good as he is, is still more of a second-tier starter, as his 4.44 ERA over his last eight starts should indicate. I'm betting you'll have a chance to draft him or someone else like him next year. I can't say the same for Hamilton.

I'll obviously use David Ortiz in my utility spot when he's healthy, but in the meantime, should I use Alex Gordon or Mike Moustakas? I need help in every category. -- @YUSoShady (via Twitter)

SW: If you need help every category, I don't know why you'd even consider Moustakas here. What advantage does he have over Gordon?

Gordon is clearly going to provide the better batting average, which has a direct impact on on-base percentage, which means he's clearly going to score more runs, especially since he's batting leadoff. And though neither Gordon nor Moustakas is Rajai Davis on the base paths, Gordon is more of a threat to steal, having swiped 17 bags last year.

I suppose you could say Moustakas is the greater source of power, but I don't think even that's an open-and-shut case. Sure, he has more homers this year, but if he maintains his current pace, he'll finish with 25, which is only two more than Gordon had last year. True, this year's numbers matter more than last year's, but it's not like 23 was an unrealistic number for Gordon. Maybe his three homers in his last four games are a sign he's going to close the gap on Moustakas between now and season's end.

I suppose if I was selling out for home runs and RBI, I'd give Moustakas the benefit of the doubt over Gordon. But if I needed help in any other category -- and you do in three -- I'd go Gordon all the way.

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Do you like Grant Balfour or Santiago Casilla for the rest of season? -- @angryelvis (via Twitter)

SW: I'm going Balfour here, and it has more to do with my distrust of Casilla than my faith in Balfour, whose past opportunities to close, including one at the beginning of the season, haven't gone well. In fact, I wouldn't even bet on him making it through the rest of this season in the role. The Athletics seem to prefer Cook closing, perhaps given Balfour's history, and will probably turn back to him as soon as he convinces them they can.

Still, a handful of saves during an erratic, short-lived term as closer is better than no saves at all, which is about what I expect Casilla to deliver the rest of the way.

He's been awful, blowing five of his last nine save opportunities. And for a team built on pitching and dependent on winning the close games, that kind of performance could be the difference in making and missing the playoffs. Quite simply, the Giants can no longer afford to have Casilla close.

Maybe his struggles are partially the result of an enormous blister that won't seem to heal, but that doesn't help his case. He can't regain the Giants' trust if he can't pitch. Maybe he'd get another shot if the Giants had no one else who could handle the role, but in Sergio Romo, who has compiled a 1.91 ERA and 0.87 WHIP and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings over the last three seasons, they have what would seem to be a natural ready to step in.

I'm not saying Casilla isn't worth stashing in certain leagues where saves are in short supply. I just think the odds are against him.

Rank these pitchers in terms of Head-to-Head value for the rest of the season: Lance Lynn, Chad Billingsley, Bartolo Colon, Scott Diamond, Miguel Gonzalez, Alex Cobb and Jeff Samardzija. -- Rob Ludwig (via Facebook)

SW: Got to love those questions that touch on seven players in one fell swoop. Don't worry; I'll make it snappy.

Lynn is my first choice. Call me sentimental, but he was too good early in the season for me to believe this latest stretch is more than a bump in the road. His 6.55 ERA over his last four starts is downright encouraging compared to the 9.98 ERA he put up during an earlier three-start stretch, and he followed up that bump in the road by allowing one earned run with more than a strikeout per inning over his next three starts. Yes, the innings are something of a concern, but it's not like you listed seven aces here. Given the alternatives, I'm willing to give Lynn the benefit of the doubt.

I don't know what's more impressive: Samardzija's 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings this season or his 2.41 ERA over his last eight starts. I like his ability and came pretty close to ranking him ahead of Lynn on this list, but his inconsistent walk totals and occasional early hooks have me thinking he'll be the less reliable of the two to close out the season. Besides, innings are a concern for him as well.

I guess I'll go Billingsley third. I can't really get excited about him. His control issues are about the same as Samardzija's, but he's not a threat for double-digit strikeouts every time out. Still, he'll get a decent number of strikeouts and more or less avoid the disastrous starts, so I guess I'm fine with him here. Overall, though, meh ...

I'm going to rank Diamond ahead of Colon, which I'll admit surprises even me, but when you get down to the numbers, they both do the same things well: throw strikes and eat innings. Shoot, Diamond actually leads the AL in walk rate. The key difference is Colon has been susceptible to the occasional blowup this year, which in mind makes him more trouble than he's worth in standard mixed leagues.

Gonzalez and Cobb are clearly the bottom-feeders here. I'll give Cobb the edge because he's on such a good run right now and was halfway serviceable last year as well, but I worry about his job security. Gonzalez boasts a pretty good fastball and isn't exactly a joke of a pickup, but judging by his pedigree and minor-league track record, I have a feeling he's due for a letdown.

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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Player News
Report: Padres have discussed Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/21/2014) The Padres have discussed a trade for Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, according to the Daily News

Newly-acquired outfielder Wil Myers would be used as the centerpiece in the deal. By bringing in Myers, Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, San Diego has a glut of talent in the outfield. While it seems strange that the team would turn around and deal Myers, he would be the type of talent the Phillies are said to be seeking for Hamels. Philadelphia reportedly wants two or three "premium" prospects for Hamels. 

The 30-year-old Hamels posted a 2.46 ERA over 204 2/3 innings last season. He's owed $90 million over the next four seasons. 


Scott Boras: Matt Wieters will be ready by opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/21/2014) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters will be ready by opening day, according to his agent, Scott Boras. 

Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery is June, and is working his way back from the injury. It's unclear if Wieters will be able to catch full-time at the beginning of the year, or if he'll have to be worked in slowly. Manager Buck Showalter recently told reporters he wasn't sure Wieters would be ready by opening day, but he expected him to good shortly after. Wieters hit .308/.339/.500 over 104 at-bats before having surgery. 


Report: James Shields seeking $110 million
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/21/2014) Free-agent pitcher James Shields is reportedly seeking a contract worth about $110 million, according to the Boston Globe

That type of deal would be similar to the one signed by Cole Hamels back in 2012. It's believed the 33-year-old Shields could receive a five-year deal. Both the Giants and Red Sox are involved with Shields, and the Yankees have been mentioned as another suitor. Shields posted a 3.21 ERA over 227 innings last season. He's exceeded 200 innings pitched in each of the last eight years.


Chase Utley staying put in Philly
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/21/2014) The Phillies will enter the season with Chase Utley, according to the Daily News. 

With Jimmy Rollins gone, some have expected the team to entertain dealing Utley. As of right now, that's not going to happen. "I've had some dialogue with Wolfie [agent Joel Wolfe] but frankly, he doesn't want to go anywhere," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He wants to honor his contract and that's how we have to perceive it." 

Amaro admitted that the team needs to listen to any offer for the 36-year-old Utley, but doesn't perceive Utley changing his mind at this time. Utley hit .270/.339/.407 in 589 at-bats last season.


Giants' Sabean: No plans to talk to Max Scherzer
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) Giants general manager Brian Sabean said that the Giants have not talked to free-agent pitcher Max Scherzer and have no plans to do so, the Mercury News reports.

Scherzer is the biggest name on the pitching market and could be seeking a deal north of the $155-million pact signed by Cubs pitcher Jon Lester. His price tag may not be feasible for the Giants' budget. The 2013 AL Cy Young winner went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA and 252:63 K:BB ratio in 220 1/3 innings with the Tigers in 2014.


Report: Nick Hundley has two-year offer, unlikely to rejoin Orioles
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) Free-agent catcher Nick Hundley has a two-year offer on the table from an unidentified team, making him unlikely to return to the Orioles, masnsports.com reports.

The Orioles declined a $5-million option on Hundley for the 2015 season but had interest in bringing him back into the fold at a lesser salary. He hit .243/.273/.358 with six home runs and 22 RBI in 218 at-bats between Baltimore and San Diego in 2014.


Report: Phillies could join Asdrubal Cabrera market
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Phillies could become involved in the market for free-agent infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, ESPN.com reports.

The Phillies traded their longtime starter at shortstop to the Dodgers this offseason and will be looking to fill that hole in the infield. However, the team will have to shed some additional payroll in order to make a run at the infielder, according to the report. Cabrera hit .241/.307/.387 with 14 home runs, 61 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 553 at-bats between Cleveland and Washington in 2014.


Rangers release Ben Rowen
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Rangers have released relief pitcher Ben Rowen . Rowen, who was designated for assignment earlier in the week, posted a 4.15 ERA in 8 2/3 innings with the Rangers in 2014 as well as a 3.45 ERA and 31:9 K:BB ratio in 47 innings with Triple-A Round Rock.

Nationals sign Mark Minicozzi to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Nationals have signed infielder Mark Minicozzi to a minor-league deal.

Minicozzi, 31, hit .298/.400/.470 with 12 home runs and 62 RBI in 315 at-bats with Triple-A San Jose in 2014. He has yet to appear in a regular-season game in the majors.


Indians sign pitcher Scott Downs to minor-league contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12/20/2014) The Indians announced they signed pitcher Scott Downs to a minor-league contract Saturday.

Downs also received a non-roster invite to MLB camp.


 
 
 
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