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Holliday headed to DL; Hanley to follow?

6/2/2011

I know it sounds strange, but fantasy owners should not be upset that the leading hitter in the National League is headed for the disabled list Thursday, and the No. 2 overall player from ESPN average live drafts could be following him there on Friday. Yes, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday won't be helping us statistically for a few weeks, and it's looking like Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez has the same plight. My take is a big-picture one: You want these fellows healthy and productive for the final three-plus months, not playing through injury and slumping.

Holliday is thriving this season, hitting a league-leading .342 with six home runs and 31 RBIs, and we should remember he missed a week earlier this season following an appendectomy, which likely depressed his power for some time. This current quad injury is unrelated, and I would stop short of calling Holliday a brittle player. Muscle strains are common, and there are probably many we never find out about; Holliday started a game earlier this week, which is unfortunate because his DL stint could have been backdated, but regardless the Cardinals do not expect him to miss significant time. Let the injury heal and he can resume his season. Hopefully he can even start stealing bases.

Fantasy owners shouldn't have trouble replacing an outfielder for a two-week period, but I would recommend looking no further than the Cardinals for the replacement, because they have two productive fellows, and each should continue playing. Lefty-hitting Jon Jay boasts the exact same batting average as Holliday, a sweet .342, and while it's a bit out of place with past performance, Jay doesn't look overwhelmed. He hit .300 over 323 plate appearances for the Cardinals last season, with four home runs. This isn't a player likely to hit 20 home runs or steal 20 bases, but he contributes in each category, and hitting second in the lineup is a nice treat for his value. Jay struck out three times Wednesday night against the San Francisco Giants, but a lot of hitters swing and miss against Tim Lincecum. Look for Jay to receive most of the work in left field.

Where does that leave outfield-eligible Allen Craig? Well, my take is that Craig is already a lineup fixture for the Cardinals, having started consistently for a month, and will continue to see playing time mainly at second base and on occasion in left field. Craig is hitting .337 -- where do the Cardinals find these guys? -- with four home runs, including a key pinch-hit, two-run blast off Lincecum in the seventh inning Wednesday. Like Jay he is 26, but hits right-handed and possesses considerably more raw power. He's up to eight games at second base, and when he hits 10 I'd call him a more attractive fantasy add.

I don't think it's a lock Craig hits 20 home runs, but it's possible, and I can't find 10 current second basemen likely to reach that number. I mean, is Aaron Hill going to hit even 15 home runs? Will Gordon Beckham, Omar Infante or Jed Lowrie? I say no on all fronts. Craig is owned in 9.7 percent of ESPN standard leagues, up 9.3 percent in the past week, but throw in second base eligibility and I'd choose him over each of the players I just named, as well as Orlando Cabrera, Justin Turner and Chone Figgins, all owned in considerably more leagues.

I'd Craig over Jay because he has more power and might have second base eligibility by the end of this weekend. Frankly, one of my first thoughts about a potential DL stint was that it hurts Lance Berkman; he has been awesome this season, but I don't want him playing every single day. Hopefully manager Tony LaRussa continues to find him the occasional day off, and as long as Jay and Craig are productive, he can slot in Skip Schumaker at second base on occasion and get away with it. By the way, I doubt Albert Pujols plays 10 games at third base this season; he's at three, and Daniel Descalso seems to be playing regularly there now until David Freese returns in a month.

As for fantasy's consensus top shortstop from draft day, he's suffering from a back problem that he recently called the "worst pain he has had in his career." That's not good. Unlike Holliday, Ramirez is not having a strong season, though he is still 14th among shortstops on the Player Rater. The Marlins would simply use Emilio Bonifacio at shortstop, and despite his speed, he has remarkably unproductive, with only two stolen bases in five attempts over 46 games. He hasn't a lick of power. The Marlins have nobody else, and in the fantasy big picture, second base is actually deeper than shortstop. If you lose Ramirez to the DL, don't fret, because we need him playing better for the long haul.

In the meantime, take a look at Rafael Furcal, Ryan Theriot and Jason Bartlett, each owned in fewer than half of ESPN's standard leagues, and each possessing stolen base potential. If you need power -- Ramirez has only four home runs -- then J.J. Hardy would be a better option.