- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila has never played a big league game over at third base, but according to manager Jim Leyland, this bit of information is hardly a deterrent. There's a first time for everything, right? Avila did play some at the hot corner in college (at Alabama), and is expected to start there Friday at Coors Field. Ah, I love interleague play. (That's not sarcasm, either.) Alex Avila gets to stay in the lineup, the Philadelphia Phillies and other NL teams can improve their defense by moving a Ryan Howard or Prince Fielder type of defender to DH, while DHs such as Billy Butler and Vladimir Guerrero might have to be bench options.
Eight American League squads head to National League parks this weekend, and some of those teams either won't be coming home anytime soon or have pending road dates this month. The Kansas City Royals, for example, stay in Missouri and meet the St. Louis Cardinals starting Friday, then come home for a pair of series and finish up their interleague run with road series in San Diego and Colorado. Butler is, needless to say, not a preferred fantasy option for the next two weeks. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels play their next three series in pitcher-friendly NL parks (Citi Field, Sun Life Stadium and Dodger Stadium). At least Bobby Abreu can play the outfield.
But the Avila story remains one of my favorites because I like Leyland thinking outside the box here. Avila is my catcher in multiple leagues, currently tops at his position on the Player Rater, and his colleague Victor Martinez happens to rank second. The Tigers can't sit first baseman Miguel Cabrera so ... Avila gives third base a try. I love it. Hopefully he'll perform better than Albert Pujols at the position -- he has an .824 fielding percentage there in six games -- as he slogs his way to achieving 10 game-eligibility. Could Avila get third base eligibility first? That would be nice!
Fantasy owners should be wary of regular designated hitters losing playing time in NL parks, such as Butler, Guerrero, Adam Dunn and even a somewhat-resurgent Jorge Posada. More on that below, but let's look also look at a player who could be helped by the DH rule this weekend:
Pablo Sandoval, 3B, San Francisco Giants: He has delivered one hit in four bats in each of the three games he has played since coming off the disabled list, scoring one run in each, and this weekend the team could opt to have him focus on hitting only at Oakland's newly named Overstock.com Coliseum. Sandoval is owned in100 percent of ESPN standard leagues, and I think he can end up as a top-10 third baseman (despite his lengthy DL stint). The Athletics have had terrific pitching this season, but Sandoval and pals aren't facing it: It's rookie Graham Godfrey, minor league journeyman Guillermo Moscoso and struggling Trevor Cahill (0-4, 7.43 ERA in the past month).
Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins: My take is that the Twins will be cautious with him, using him at DH a few times per week, similar to how Phillies manager Chase Utley is getting the occasional day off. Utley will likely get a start or two at DH as well. Mauer is going to hit, but it seems to me a lot of fantasy owners picked up Avila or others who have performed well in his stead, and face a tough decision. I'd play Avila over Mauer the next 10 days; for one, Avila heads to Coors Field, but next week the Twins play all games in NL parks. I doubt Mauer starts more than three or four games. Look, I rank Mauer as a top-five catcher in fantasy the rest of the season, as he hits .300, and that's with him playing maybe 75 of the team's final 95 games. Just don't expect it all right away.
Adam Dunn, 1B, Chicago White Sox: Paul Konerko probably deserves better than to sit any games, seeing as how he is fifth among first basemen on the Player Rater, but manager Ozzie Guillen claims Dunn will get the occasional start in NL parks, at first base or left field. Dunn is showing signs of busting out of his season-long Figgins -- my alter-word for "slump" -- as he has two home runs and five walks over the past week. He's at 95.3 percent owned, so his owners still believe. If you're one of them, don't cut Dunn just because you think he's an automatic sit three of the next five series. Plus, Dunn has admitted in the past he'd rather play a defensive position than DH, and I wouldn't put it past him to really start hitting if the gets that chance.
And while I'm talking about the DH slot, I better discuss ...
David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox: Here's the player hurt the most by interleague play. In past seasons, the Red Sox could always move Kevin Youkilis to third base. Well, now he's the regular third baseman, and Adrian Gonzalez leads the world in RBIs. Unlike Dunn, Ortiz can't play the outfield. The Red Sox start a series in Pittsburgh next weekend and keep on going in Philadelphia and Houston, so Ortiz will lose a lot of at-bats. It's a shame, since he's the No. 5 hitter overall on the Player Rater over the past 30 days. I know it's painful, fantasy owners, but you can't cut Ortiz. Bench him, hope for a pinch-hit home run or two, whatever, but you can't cut him based on one 10-game span.
Good luck to all this fantasy baseball weekend and let's all remember the dads out there on Father's Day. Let us watch baseball on the couch Sunday instead of checking our phones for scores at Bed, Bath & Beyond if that's what we want to do (and we do)! Enjoy!