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Big Papi tops oldie-but-goodie hitters list

2/14/2013

One of the myriad players whose inclusion in my top 100 overall rankings this week generated buzz was Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. I used to argue that "clogging" a DH/utility spot in the first half of a normal fantasy draft was poor roster construction, but with offensive production declining a bit more each and every year, I just want the offense. Selecting Big Papi beats having Cody Ransom in your utility spot just because you can draft him later.

However, position eligibility is hardly the lone reason Ortiz will slip way too far in drafts, as he tends to every year. The guy is old, at least for an athlete, and let's be honest: Fantasy owners in all sports tend to be biased toward younger options with upside. The argument can be made that it's considerably tougher for an older player to recover from injury and regain prior form, and it's a valid one. But that hardly means an accomplished player, be it a hitter like Ortiz or a pitcher like Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay, can't return to previous glory.

And so it is time for my annual AARP report defending baseball players on the other side of 35 years old, and Ortiz is an obvious choice. Now 37, Ortiz was not only a productive fantasy option for most of the 2012 season but also among the best in the game. His season ended early because of an Achilles injury. He did come back for one game and reinjured himself, but I think he could have returned to the lineup if the team was contending (and he didn't dislike his manager so much).

The 2012 version of Ortiz raked in his 90 games and 324 at-bats, barely half a season. He hit 23 home runs and knocked in 60 while hitting .318. Four players age 35 or older hit more home runs (Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko), but that crew collectively averaged well past 500 at-bats. Ortiz posted a 1.026 OPS, which would have led baseball had he qualified for the batting title. No qualifier reached 1.000. Konerko was second in OPS for the older fellows at .857, and Ortiz was over 1.000 three of his four months, with his worst month being .841!

Ortiz is far from through as a hitter and fantasy contributor, which is why he appears safely in my top 100. While injury and age are factors in determining value, both tend to get overrated. Would I want Ortiz in a dynasty/keeper league? Well, you don't build around someone 37 years old. Then again, if you want to win in 2013, you don't overlook him in any format in the first 10 rounds. Ortiz raked in prior years as well. Unlike many left-handed hitters, he's not a liability against lefty pitchers (.985 OPS, 9 home runs), and unlike many slow fellows, he does score runs. He was second in baseball in the category at the All-Star break, one behind Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler and nearly on pace for what Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout ultimately accomplished. As for Boston's lineup, as bad as 2012 appeared to be, it scored the eighth-most runs. It should bounce back to the top five in 2013, with Ortiz hitting .300 and flirting with 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and 80 runs scored, just like in 2011.

Here are other hitters, broken up by position, that fantasy owners will be able to get at great discount in 2013, mainly because of them being deemed too old to either match 2012 numbers or simply contribute at a high level. On Friday, we'll dissect the "ancient" pitchers.

Catchers: I can't find anyone who thinks new Texas Rangers starter Pierzynski will repeat his 27-homer campaign, but he does have the skill and will have the opportunity, especially considering his friendly home ballpark. He'll slip outside the top 10 catchers on draft day, but even if he hits only 20 home runs, what a bargain.

Corner infield: I wouldn't call what Konerko is doing a major regression. He hit .298 with 26 home runs. If his wrist is healthy, he's easily a top-100 player. ... New Ranger Lance Berkman has larger issues after pretty much a lost 2012. He's also potentially hitting third in a terrific lineup and doesn't have to play the field. He's definitely worth a late draft pick in deeper formats. ... I understand why the Phillies think Michael Young can hit near .300 with many doubles. Prior to 2012, he was doing that annually. (The defense thing at third base? Now that's just mind-boggling.) Don't be stunned if Young, batting fifth in the lineup, hits .280 and drives in 80 runs.

Middle infield: All eyes will be on Derek Jeter. He missed my top 100, but not by much. I see him hitting .300 -- yeah, again -- but with single-digit homers and steals in roughly 140 games. He's still worth drafting at middle infield. ... Jeter or Marco Scutaro? They should provide similar numbers, so if Jeter goes in Round 12 and Scutaro is out there five rounds later, go for it. ... Rafael Furcal probably can't stay healthy enough to help many fantasy owners, but he still can steal 15-20 bases. ... Mark Ellis could lead off for the Dodgers. No, really. He also can score runs for those of you in deep leagues.

Outfield: Beltran finished the 2012 season 11th among outfielders on the Player Rater. He just missed my top 100, but on second thought, he probably should have made it. ... Soriano shouldn't have, but another 30-homer season is a realistic expectation. ... Ichiro Suzuki led last year's oldies-but-goodies blog entry then struggled for Seattle, but he hit .322 as a Yankee. Overall, he stole 29 bases. He can do that again. ... Torii Hunter is a smart guy. After hitting .300 for the first time, at age 37, including a startling .343 mark as the Angels' No. 2 hitter between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, he signed with the Tigers to hit between Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera. Nice! Watch him hit around .290 with 20 home runs.

Designated hitter: It didn't surprise me that Raul Ibanez was able to blast 19 home runs for the Yankees last season, hitting all of them off right-handers, with 17 to right field and 14 at home. Why can't Travis Hafner do that? I'd consider him late even in 14-team mixed formats.