- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Two of the five players projected for the most stolen bases in the major leagues this season went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in their season openers Monday, the famed golden sombrero. While it’s never a good idea to panic after one game -- there are 161 more to go! -- the fact is that when it comes to Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton and New York Mets outfielder Eric Young Jr., it’s a bit tough to tell just how much patience their own teams will have with them.
It’s true that I’ve spent much of the winter calling Hamilton one of the most overrated fantasy options in the game, and nothing that occurred Monday changed that. Then again, nothing that happened to Hamilton on Monday changed anything at all, so don’t act on this performance from a fantasy sense.
Let’s be honest: The Reds aren’t going to bench or demote the fastest baseball player in the world because St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, arguably the top active fantasy pitcher right now because Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish are on the disabled list, made him look silly in his four at-bats. Hamilton managed a half-swing on a few foul balls, but was basically no match. Wainwright makes many hitters look silly. While I still feel that Hamilton is overwhelmed at the plate and lesser pitchers also will toy with him, nobody should sell a player capable of stealing 75 bases -- or more -- off one tough afternoon, even the most critical of us. There remains incredible upside and the Reds will not overreact yet.
However, with the Mets' Young, his playing time is far less guaranteed, so fantasy owners should be prepared. The defending National League stolen base champ started at second base Monday, a position he’s ridiculously ill-fitted to handle even in small spurts, and it showed. And it’s not as if he’s a Gold Glover in the outfield, either. Center fielder Juan Lagares, meanwhile, is elite defensively. Despite not playing regularly in 2013, Lagares was among the leaders in defensive runs saved. No, he’s not much of a hitter, but neither is Young. In terms of WAR (Wins Above Replacement), Lagares was far more valuable in 2013. Oh, and by the way, Lagares homered Monday. A year ago he hit .242 with four home runs and six stolen bases in 121 games. If he keeps hitting this week, then the Mets' decision will be made for them.
I’m certainly not endorsing Lagares as a fantasy option in any format, but the Mets should not play Young over him. With outfielder Chris Young (calf) and second baseman Daniel Murphy (paternity) likely to return in time for the team’s bullpen to squander away the next game, Eric Young probably moves to the bench. It’s going to be tough for him to help a fantasy team this way, so yes, with Lagares at least showing promise at the plate and being a defensive stud, that doesn’t bode well for Eric Young. Don’t drop Young, and as with Hamilton it’s true he was facing the tough Stephen Strasburg and not some minor leaguer, but don’t be so sure he gets the opportunity to steal 30-plus bases this season. With the younger, still-emerging Hamilton, he'll see plenty more chances.
NL Report: While Pittsburgh Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano and Chicago Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija dueled Monday and combined to permit nary a run and strike out 13 hitters between them, neither won. Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cliff Lee was torched for eight runs, yet he did win. Sometimes life isn’t fair. This is one reason many leagues have turned to quality starts as a category instead of wins. Lee’s ERA stands at 14.40. Of course, he has performed brilliantly the past two seasons and won 20 of 61 starts. He’ll take it. Those concerned about Liriano and Samardzija from their underwhelming springs due to health and performance should feel more confident today. ... The Phillies scored two touchdowns and added the extra points in topping pitching-deficient Texas. No Phillies hitters seem in demand in standard leagues; this shouldn’t change with third baseman Cody Asche (a home run among three hits, four runs scored) and shortstop Jimmy Rollins (grand slam), but it's possible outfielder Marlon Byrd (home run) is being underrated. ... Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun singled and stole a base in four at-bats, doing so with hearty support of the home crowd. Fantasy owners surely support the steal; Braun was 4-for-9 in stolen base attempts in his truncated 2013 campaign. This is a good sign. ... Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos injured his left hand Monday, though reports of a broken bone remain sketchy. Regardless of his upside, should Ramos' injury necessitate a DL stint, those in ESPN standard formats should simply move on. Ramos is a borderline top-10 catcher and only 10 catchers are needed; Yan Gomes, Carlos Ruiz and Russell Martin are solid fill-ins.
AL Report: The defending champion Boston Red Sox scored only one run Monday, courtesy of a Grady Sizemore home run. Yep, you read that correctly. We’ve spent much time discussing Sizemore, last relevant in fantasy leagues in 2009, but he's going to be one of the most added players this week, and he should be. Be skeptical of his durability, but we've seen the upside. Meanwhile, Mike Carp earned the start in left field, with Daniel Nava moving to right field as Shane Victorino hit the 15-day DL. Carp produced a .885 OPS in limited duty last season and is worth a look in AL-only formats. It’s notable that Jackie Bradley Jr. did not start. ... Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez homered in his first at-bat leading off the second inning. A year ago Martinez homered 14 times in 159 games, and didn’t hit his first until his 113th at-bat. Hopefully this is a sign he can get back to 20 long balls, last achieved in 2010. ... Your early 2014 home run leader is Chicago White Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza, after he smacked a pair Monday. De Aza comes off a solid 17-homer, 20-steal season and is owned in most leagues, and fantasy owners should expect he'll continue to play against right-handed pitching, with Dayan Viciedo likely to face lefties. Those in daily leagues should take advantage of the schedule. ... Worried about the many closers in baseball who had rough Mondays and the Jose Reyes injury? That’s all covered in later blog entries!