August, 16, 2005
Why is Nick Punto better than Scott Podsednik right now? Because Punto's out on the field stealing bases. And Podsednik is not.

We know many fantasy baseball players also dabble in football, so here's a comparison: Last year you owned Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb, and enjoyed monster numbers. And then, when the season counted most, when fantasy championships were decided, they weren't there. Manning owners were left with nothing.

We don't blame Manning, McNabb or Podsednik for this, but it's the way things work in fantasy. We rely on stats, so whether a player misses a game due to an overprotective coach or because of a legitimate injury like Podsednik's, it still kills us.

Podsednik stole 52 bases in four months, quite a feat, really. Or maybe it was quite a feet. But then Pods started getting caught more, his average dropped and now, with a strained left adductor, whatever that is, he's on the disabled list at the most critical time of our season. The White Sox, of course, can afford to let him sit a month. The Twins can't catch 'em. But we don't want Pods' replacement, Timo Perez. We need steals.

We credit Podsednik for trying. Since July 23, he's attempted 13 stolen bases. He was successful only four times, however. We should've known then something was wrong. The White Sox did.

How do we move forward? Stolen bases aren't easy to find. It's hard to find players who run like this, stealing bases in bunches, and if you do find them, someone's already got 'em and wants Pedro Martinez in return. For every one stolen base, two home runs are hit. Steals are a rare commodity.

So that's why Punto, heretofore a utility infielder whom fantasy owners knew little about, is the hottest free agent around today. He stole three bases Monday night! Three! And he might steal more in the future! Punto, who is aggressive and does have speed, entered last night's affair with six steals. In fairness, he hasn't been a regular player. Now he is.

Need steals because Scotty let you down? In addition to Punto, here are some others who run but remain largely available in a lot of leagues.

Craig Counsell, Arizona: This guy seemed to stop running after April, when he surprisingly swiped eight bases. In May and June he stole one base total and fantasy owners gave up. Counsell's back on the running train apparently, with five steals in July and five already this month. Climb aboard.

Adam Kennedy, Angels: Another middle infielder largely ignored, but why? He skipped April with injury, but he's hitting .329 with three or four steals and a few runs scored each month. He's not flashy, but the stats are fine.

Joey Gathright, Devil Rays: Still available, and still running. Gathright's playing time remains a question mark, for now and in September when the other kids -- the ones Tampa actually likes -- are called up. Gathright has three steals in the last 10 days, but also has three DNPs. Be careful who you drop to get him.

Willie Bloomquist, Mariners: I actually signed him in the office league, needing steals from a middle infield position. So what if there were better options available who hit for power, I needed steals. Willie stole a pair for me last week. Or two more than Carl Crawford did.

Who else: So Taguchi has three steals this month, as do Lew Ford, Reed Johnson, Felipe Lopez and Mike Lowell.

When will Podsednik return? Will he still be the major league leader in steals when he does? Maybe not. Juan Pierre, Jose Reyes and Chone Figgins have passed 40. Those are probably the only players who could get past Podsednik.

Red Sox Rage: So in this points league of mine I've been in a steady freefall. Pedro Martinez went 0-2 last week, despite just about pitching a no-hitter in one of the games. But a loss is a loss, and in that league Pedro gave me a minus-40. Meanwhile, a cheap win for a relief pitcher was a plus 50. Tough league.

So Monday night I've got Bronson Arroyo going, and while he certainly didn't pitch well, he left with the lead. And then in the ninth in comes closer Curt Schilling, and right away I could sense Arroyo wasn't getting a win. I've never seen Dmitri Young hit a triple, let alone a standup triple. I won't discuss Schilling -- what can you say? I don't know when he's heading back to the rotation, if ever -- but it pains a fantasy owner desperate for a win when a seemingly safe lead is lost.

Notes: I can't tell you how happy I am to have traded for Jason Giambi two weeks ago. He's hitting .047 for me with nary an RBI. Thanks. ... Scot Shields is 8-8 this season. He has made zero starts. John Patterson has made 22 starts, is 7-3. ... Todd Helton is one of the hottest hitters around now. Ignore four months of a .270 average and get him if you can. He's at .304 for the season and hitting for power. ... Do you sit top starters at Coors Field? I usually don't. Glad I don't have Ben Sheets on any teams. That's 10 earned! ... Corey Patterson update: In these seven games, he's hitting .280 with a home run, a steal and six runs scored. Also, two walks, four strikeouts. That's relative progress. ... I'd like to see the Rangers call up Justin Thompson to start. I won't recommend him for fantasy owners, but talk about a guy who just doesn't give up and deserves recognition. Thompson, whom I owned in his very nice 1997 season (15-11, 3.02 ERA, 151 K's), has had myriad shoulder injuries since then. What a great lesson in perseverance. ... Whatever I said to caution you about King Felix Hernandez, forget it. The guy is a fantasy monster. Keep him.