Written by Tony Meale
Published: 14 April 2009
Winning a fantasy baseball league takes more than a good draft; it’s about forging a monopoly on roster-worthy free agents. The season is only a week old, but sometimes a week is all you need.
Every Opening Day it happens.
A fantasy free agent does something of note – he hits a homer, steals a base, or goes perfect at the plate – and that free agent is a free agent no more. A fantasy owner picks him up faster than Jose Reyes swiping second.
Jeff Francoeur has started the year red hot.
But this year, some fantasy owners couldn’t even wait until Opening Day to begin the premature pickups. On Opening Night – April 5 – Atlanta’s Jeff Francoeur went yard in the top of the second inning of a 4-1 win over the Phillies. Before the bottom of the second even began, an owner in my league had already added the Braves’ right fielder to his roster.
Kudos to Francoeur for starting the year off right. After all, he struggled through a dismal 2008 in which he hit .239 with 11 homers and 111 strikeouts.
But this isn’t fantasy football. If a free agent wide receiver shreds a defense for 150 yards and two touchdowns one week, he is worth picking up without question. A fantasy football season – including the regular season and playoffs – typically lasts just 16 games, and sometimes it’s even shorter than that. A player who can go on a two or three or four or however-many-weeks-it-ends-up-being hot streak is monumental in helping your team to a league championship.
But one swing in one at-bat on Opening Night in a 162-game season? That means absolutely nothing. And what has Francoeur done since that first long ball? He’s hit .208 with no home runs (through Sunday). So much for riding a hot streak.
It’s not that I’m against early season free-agent acquisitions. In fact, I made one of my own on Opening Day. Emilio Bonifacio’s line was simply too good to ignore: 4-4, an inside-the-park home run, two RBIs, four runs scored and three steals.
I know what you’re thinking – what’s the difference between gambling on Francoeur and gambling on Bonifacio? It’s still a decision based off one game, right?
Well, my best explanation is this: Bonifacio didn’t just hit a homer or just steal a base or just go perfect at the plate. He did all three. And that just screams versatility. For me, his speed was seductive, so I picked him up and have since started him at second base over Dan Uggla. In the Marlins’ five games since Opening Day, Bonifacio has hit .435 with three RBI, five runs scored and a stolen base.
Now, five games do not make a season – for either Bonifacio or Francoeur. Am I expecting Bonifacio to still be my starting second baseman in September? Or at the All-Star break? Or even in May? Not necessarily, no. But I’m riding his hot streak while it lasts.
And that’s more than you can say for Francoeur.
Other probable free agents in need of a roster:
Jordan Schafer, Atlanta OF – I followed this kid all spring and made sure he was on my roster before the season even started. He’s off to a torrid start – .348, two homers, three RBIs and six runs scored. And he’s done it all out of the eight hole. Eventually, Bobby Cox is going to have to move Schafer up in the order, and I’m guessing it’ll be sooner rather than later.
Adam Lind, Toronto OF – The Blue Jays’ DH has been a wrecking ball thus far in ’09 – .400, three homers, 12 RBIs and five runs scored. With Alex Rios and Vernon Wells hitting in front of him, Lind should have plenty of RBI opportunities as long as those two guys stay healthy.
Dexter Fowler, Colorado OF – In four games this season, Fowler has hit .385 with two homers, three RBI, four runs and one stolen base. Keep an eye on the 23-year-old; if he maintains this pace over the next few games, you’ll want to move quickly.