Mets get El Duque! 

May, 24, 2006
Breaking news right before the Mets and Phils play Game 2 of their series, and those who own Aaron Heilman in fantasy leagues won't be pleased. The Mets just dealt reliever Jorge Julio to the Diamondbacks for Orlando Hernandez. What does it mean? Here are the big reasons this trade affects us, and surprise, surprise, the biggest reason is not about either of the players in the trade, it's someone fantasy owners just can't stop talking about!

• Heilman's staying in the Mets bullpen. And you know what, that should be OK with fantasy owners. His numbers look very good, though strikeout middle relievers are kind of a dime a dozen. Why do fantasy owners simply assume Heilman will dominate as a starter? I don't. Last season Heilman had a 2.18 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 66.1 relief innings. He was terrific. He allowed only one home run. He saved some games. In seven starts, however, his ERA was 4.71. The year before, Heilman made five starts and his ERA was 5.46. Is it possible he could blossom in the rotation? Sure. But why change something that is working? Good for the Mets for realizing Heilman helps their team more in the seventh inning than starting the game. Heilman allowed a pair of runs to the Phillies Tuesday and still his ERA is barely 2. They were the first runs he allowed all month. The Mets are a better team today than yesterday, because they pick up a veteran starter for very little, and don't upset their bullpen structure.

• Get ready for El Duque in Shea! Why not? But let's not get too excited about it in fantasy, as he remains injury prone and even in the biggest park, no lock. First off, don't worry about how Hernandez will handle the pressure. This isn't Kenny Rogers or Ed Whitson succumbing to the tabloids, Hernandez has been in New York before and he'll be fine. Getting Hernandez for a pitcher the Mets didn't want is a steal, even if he might be a decade older than his announced age of 36. Hernandez fits right in as the Mets' No. 4 starter after Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel. Nobody knows how Cuban import Alay Soler will do in his ML debut Wednesday vs. Philly. He was in Double-A a few days ago. Brian Bannister has had his return pushed back, and who knows if the control pitcher can succeed the way he was with his underwhelming walk to strikeout rate. Jeremi Gonzalez? Darren Oliver? Jose Lima is still Mets property. Please.

Should we endorse Hernandez, who has a 6.11 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, among the worst for anyone with nine starts? Yeah, he looks a lot better today than he did yesterday for fantasy. He's also got those 52 strikeouts, which is 10th in the National League. Arizona is clearly a hitter's park, and Hernandez was getting strafed there for a 8.16 ERA and 37 hits in 28.2 innings. On the road his ERA is 2.65, though in half the starts. On Monday, Hernandez struck out nine Pirates, his best home start, but still didn't win. Bottom line: The Mets score more runs than the Diamondbacks. The Mets have a pitcher's park. The bullpen is better. The Mets are in the spotlight, where Hernandez's best days were. I'm thinking he's about to go from 2 percent owned in ESPN mixed leagues to 20 percent in a few days. I doubt he finishes the season with an ERA over 6, so to some degree, and I don't want to overrate him, buy low.

• Julio was being wasted in the Mets bullpen. Yes, this guy does have 33 strikeouts, which ranks him tied for first among all relief pitchers in baseball (Heilman is tied for ninth), but imagine how many he would have had the Mets used him more. Julio had pitched only three times since May 6, a span of 13 games. He's not hurt. He's not bad. He's just really, really rested. The Mets didn't trust him, and it's hard to argue when his ERA was over 5, but Julio was throwing 98 mph consistently, and the Mets have Heilman and Duaner Sanchez to set up Billy Wagner. Now Julio goes to Arizona and won't be the main setup guy there, but can certainly help a bullpen than has only one strikeout pitcher (Luis Vizcaino) to set up Jose Valverde. Julio remains an intriguing fantasy option as a middle reliever who strikes hitters out. It's still hard to believe, with the way Kris Benson is pitching, that Julio is all the Mets got for him, and now it's just El Duque, a rental at that.

• Who replaces El Duque in 'Zona? Good question. Immediate speculation will center on prospect Dustin Nippert, who is 6-0 at Triple-A Tucson and has 40 strikeouts in 47 innings. Nippert, 25, had been considered a candidate to make the rotation out of spring training, and I admit I was a bit surprised when Juan Cruz became the replacement for Russ Ortiz, not Nippert, who made three starts for the Diamondbacks last season. Is he ready? He's not Francisco Liriano or Cole Hamels, but he does very good upside. I would think those in NL only leagues would take a long look at him, if he gets promoted. Who else could it be? Casey Daigle? Terry Mulholland? What's Kevin Brown up to these days? I don't have any information that Nippert is coming to the majors, but if he does, take a long look at him.

So, to sum up, the big winner here, other than the Mets making a great deal, is the guy they got and his possible replacement in Arizona. As for Heilman, enjoy his relief work. There remain no guarantees he'd be the same starting games.


Injuries affect just about every fantasy team at some point, whether they are small ones or ones that seriously derail your chances for success. The Aubrey Huff injury, for example, didn't cost you a fantasy championship. Neither did the Cesar Izturis one, or that week Scott Rolen missed. The Derrek Lee injury, however, is different.

Today we hear word about Gary Sheffield possibly having a broken hamate bone in his left hand, which means a few things could happen here if it's true:

• A) He could opt for surgery, which means another 4-to-6 weeks on the shelf, and more Terrence Long and Richard Hidalgo types (apparently, he just signed a minor league deal) than anyone should have to deal with.

• B) He could play through the injury, like he did on Tuesday night, which would likely mean decreased performance. I know enough about the hamate bone to know people have it removed all the time and it's no big deal, but it has to be there for a reason and would likely hold Sheffield back some, right?

• C) He could pretend it doesn't hurt and smack another 25 home runs. Hey, some players play just fine through injuries. Others are J.D. Drew.

Fantasy owners need to know all the options, really. Chances are there's someone in one of your leagues who owns Sheffield and is panicking today. The next few hours, or days, are critical here. Will Sheffield opt for surgery? If so, that Sheffield owner wants to move him immediately. You might be able to get a good deal here, so don't just say no to a Sheffield trade offer. He should hit just fine upon returning. But Sheffield might also homer tonight, which could lead us to believe his initial words, which were "I don't have time for surgery. Not anymore."

It is, after all, a contract year, and the guy is 37 years old.

Bottom line is, Sheffield is hurt, and fantasy owners have to prepare for this and react accordingly. Complaining that you've already lost Lee, Hideki Matsui, Jeremy Hermida, J.J. Hardy, Mark Prior, Eric Gagne as well as Eric Lindros, Baron Davis and Daunte Culpepper gets you nowhere.

The Cubs' Lee will be back. Prior will be back. Kerry Wood is back. Chances are if you're in multiple leagues, you're dealing with an injured Cub somewhere. Did I draft Prior? Would I draft Prior? You know going in he'll miss some starts, but there sure is talent there.

Sure, fantasy owners would prefer to only select in drafts and trade for the healthy players. Miguel Tejada never misses a game, Mark Buehrle is out on the mound every five days, no matter what. But things don't work that way, especially when everyone is looking at the same players. Nomar Garciaparra was a big draft day risk, and still is. We want him to stay healthy, but remain skeptical. But don't those of you have him feel good about drafting him, and not dumping him when he got hurt?

Shawn Green and Mike Lowell are among two of the players who made it through last season without a disabled list stint, but sometime during the winter admitted they had played hurt much of the year. Did they hurt fantasy teams? Absolutely! Green was surely more popular in fantasy baseball than he should have been, in part because he's been one of the most durable players this decade, and also because he's hit 42 or more home runs three times. Of course, he's averaged 25 homers and 80 RBI the last two seasons, and currently has a hollow .321 and a pace for 11 home runs and 57 RBI. Yuck. Yet, he's owned in 98.1 percent of leagues! Green is hardly a special fantasy player, but his durability makes him seem as such. As for Lowell, with that average, and the way he's playing now, it's pretty clear some time off couldn't have hurt.

Other times, you draft someone who never gets hurt, and then he does. Lee was durable. Hideki Matsui is in a similar situation, and it was just bad luck he suffered a serious injury this season. Matsui hadn't missed a game in a decade between the States and Japan. His numbers are OK, but the fact he never sits is part of his value. But look at some of the other players who can similar damage powerwise to Matsui, but tend to get hurt, like Ken Griffey Jr. Matsui was drafted 50th on average in ESPN live drafts, well ahead of Griffey's 102nd. Does the potential for injury make that much of a difference?

It appears so. But the fact is Sheffield will play tonight, and even if he misses a month with surgery, fantasy owners shouldn't forget about him. Todd Jones went on the DL early this season, he got dropped in a lot of leagues. Now he's a save or two off the league lead. Rich Harden and Chipper Jones were cut in a 10-team league I'm in. Half of ESPN users let go of Hermida, even though he's back and still expected to post solid stats.

Don't give up on your injured players, don't avoid them in trades, and don't forget about them on the free agent lists. They still have value.


• Bad news in Philly -- or more than usual -- now that Cole Hamels has been scratched from his Wednesday start. He was sent back to home base to get his sore shoulder looked at. Ugh. But there's a reason why we were wary about this guy, as he made so few appearances the last few years in the minors, he couldn't stay healthy. More on this tomorrow.

• Spent half of today's chat session discussing Felix Hernandez and Mark Teixeira. Why? Because those two names were involved in half the questions! Remember, we can only post the questions we see. If I was making a list of the top 10 buy low selections, Teixeira might be No. 1, and Felix, he'd be in the top 10. I'm not as sure about him reaching the predicted greatness everyone expected in 2006, but I'm sure he'll get better. As for Teix, he's going to hit home runs. Last night he sent some Angels rookie to the wall and the kid brought a homer back into play.

• Another interesting note from the chat was someone discussing why certain trades can't be made, in that one guy was a second round pick and another was taken much later. The trade in question here was Felix for Jason Bay, which doesn't seem fair with Felix struggling, but remember, a week ago Bay was sputtering, too. Regardless how you feel about the deal, the position they were drafted in has no relevance at all. Who cares which round you took Felix? Does that mean you can only trade him for someone else who was drafted in that fourth round? Brandon Phillips is a top 10 second baseman, and that's not changing. Josh Barfield might have been a 10th round pick in your league, but I'll take the undrafted Phillips, thank you very much.

• Great stuff in today's Elias Sports Bureau report. While ESPNEWS anchor Brian Kenny is sure to point out I was dead on predicting that Kendry Morales homer last night, and his quick rise in ESPN ownership, the folks at Elias do warn us about others who homered and had three hits in their ML debuts recently: Going around the diamond, the latest to do it are Travis Lee, Kazuo Matsui, the other Craig Wilson, Jose Offerman, Mark Quinn, George Wright, Rusty Greer, Mike Redmond and Jason Jennings. In their words, "not exactly a fantasy dream team, is it?" Well put. Nevertheless I do like Kendry to be productive. Jason Kubel scares me a bit more.

• I often check out the work on Baseball Prospectus, and particularly enjoyed two of their pieces today. Nobody covers injuries like Will Carroll, and Joe Sheehan pounds Phillies manager Charlie Manuel for the use of his bullpen in the 16-inning loss last night. We're still waiting for Tom Gordon to pitch in that game.

• Do I like Pittsburgh third baseman Freddy Sanchez? The kid has power, and has been batting third for the Bucs. My question is, do the Pirates foolishly put Sean Casey back in the three spot when he gets healthy? They probably will. Sanchez could be a 20-80 guy pretty easily if they leave him there. Sanchez is barely owned in 10 percent of ESPN leagues, by the way. Other players nobody seems to want who are my agenda for the ESPNEWS segment today are Mike Cuddyer, Gary Matthews Jr., Juan Encarnacion, Yuniesky Betancourt, Nate McLouth and Craig Counsell. Cuddyer, in particular, has third base eligibility, second base in some leagues, and is on a 22-84-13 pace. Why is he not owned? This is kind of legit.

Tomorrow, as you know, is Closer Report day. What's the deal in Seattle, Florida, Cincy and Los Angeles? We'll see.