Camp notes: Beware Mauer's back woes 

March, 10, 2009

Normally fantasy owners shouldn't be too concerned about a big-time fantasy option possibly missing a week or two of the regular season. However, in the case of Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, an MRI scheduled for Tuesday could prove to be big news that, like a certain Yankees third baseman, really affects the draft boards.

Joe Mauer
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesJoe Mauer's offseason kidney surgery might not have concerned many fantasy owners, but lingering back issues could.

Mauer has been hampered by back pain, and that in turn has slowed his recovery from offseason kidney surgery. He has yet to appear in a spring game, being relegated to conditioning drills, and the Twins have reacted -- until now -- as if their top player would always be ready for April. It doesn't appear that fantasy owners were too worried, either, about Mauer's recovery in spring drafts, as the two-time American League (and defending) batting champion is currently being selected in the top 50 and as the No. 2 catcher overall, even though he's No. 56 overall and third at his position in ESPN's fantasy rankings.

Mauer's fantasy detractors point to a lack of power -- he has reached double digits only once -- but then again, there are no catchers with a career .317 batting average and multiple batting titles, and he's been largely durable. The Twins would turn to Mike Redmond if Mauer misses much time, sort of the Cody Ransom of Minnesota. If he could do the job in a short period of time, fantasy owners might take a look. If Mauer's medical tests prove he needs a longer-term recovery, however, he won't be going in the top 50 anymore.

By the way, unless you've been living in a cave (one without cable and Internet), you're aware Alex Rodriguez won't be playing for awhile. He had what doctors term successful hip surgery Monday, and rehab is scheduled to begin immediately. I'm optimistic -- since I own the guy in soooo many leagues -- that A-Rod will return in May, which is why I wouldn't let him go past the end of Round 2 in drafts. Of course, that's not where I drafted him. Anyway, as for Ransom, at whom I would take a late look in AL-only formats, he did not appear in Monday's loss to the Blue Jays, and he's hitting .241 this spring with a home run.

• Uh-oh, Chipper Jones is hurt again, and a month before the season starts. The Braves' third baseman seems to attract oblique strains, one of the culprits in his missing an average of more than 30 games a season recently. Jones isn't scheduled to play for Team USA in what is a meaningless Wednesday tilt, but he could return for the weekend. This shouldn't affect Jones' value in drafts. You know he's no Cal Ripken Jr. in terms of durability, but how many guys can hit .350?

• Good news for the Mets: Johan Santana is set to make his spring debut Thursday against the Marlins. This doesn't necessarily mean Santana will be ready to make his Opening Day start, by the way. All it means is he's scheduled to pitch, and a whole lot of Mets fans -- and fantasy owners -- will be watching and probably overrate his performance. Remember, with his balky elbow, his throwing is the key; the stats won't matter much.

• The Rays have many options to close games, but that in itself is the problem. In our projections we've got Dan Wheeler leading Tampa Bay, with more saves than Troy Percival, Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell combined. Percival, however, probably has the job when he's healthy. On Monday, according to the Rays' site, he proclaimed himself ready for April after throwing 42 pitches in a bullpen session. "I'm still going to be a work in progress, but physically, I feel great," he said. As closer handcuffs go, if you select Percival, make sure you have Wheeler as well.