What can be salvaged from Adam Dunn?
Dunn's weaknesses exploded at a time when many fantasy drafters considered him stable and accepted his batting-average-centric flaws in exchange for 30-40 home runs. Guess the Sharpie wore off.
In his first season in the American League, with reps as a designated hitter, he had trouble punishing fastballs - a former trademark - and became an even bigger liability versus southpaws. Dunn probably came back too quickly from his April appendectomy. Big Donkey's body type probably didn't forgive him much for that and, in general, caught up to him a bit in his age-31 season as well.
Though reports and observations differ on their impact, faulty mechanics, possibly prompted by his hastened early-season recovery, likely played a hand in his tanking. His drop in HR/FB and ghastly infield fly-ball rate hinted the plane of his already lumbering swing was corrupted.
He still has a traditional prime campaign or two left, but he has 10-plus seasons of MLB duty under his belt; how worn out is he? We can't be sure how quickly new skipper Robin Ventura will follow Ozzie Guillen's suit and relegate Dunn to platoon duty if he's enduring the same struggles.
For all his warning signs, however, Dunn could reward the opportunistic. If he lasts until a point where the corner-infielder payoff outweighs the risk, you don't need ample guts to pull the trigger on a former power staple. A clearer head and more physical comfort should restore force and fortune in his contact. Dunn still belongs to one of the most advantageous home parks and lineups and can take walks with the best of 'em.
His realistic HR baseline now hovers closer to 20 than 40, but the knowledge that he consistently approached the latter in the past justifies a bargain purchase with moderate confidence for a rebound effort.
What happened to Alex Rios?
The sometimes brilliant, more often enigmatic outfielder was overvalued in most circles last year. His contact rates have kept his BA potential high, but he hasn't always made the hard contact. As with Dunn, Rios was getting under many pitches, evidenced by a jump in infield fly swats and a career-low slugging percentage (.348). Rios, who'll turn 31 in February, has fiddled so much with his hitting form you'd think Tom Emanski is crashing on his couch.
Righties gave him profound trouble last year, but Rios hasn't always been fooled by them. Many don't give enough credit to resurfaced chronic toe soreness for Rios' downfall. Some late-season swing tinkering also came through: An alteration of the hand positioning helped produce a .307/.341/.533 September and boost his liner rate; strong finishes often carry over.
Rios' combo of homer-steal upside - 30-30 in a perfect storm, but 20-20 for the more sober-minded - will yield value on its own. His .287 clip from his 2010 revival probably represents his upside; .300 isn't far off but probably aiming a bit too high considering he doesn't walk much. While not a roto centerpiece, he boasts a structure worth betting on following a down year, in most cases more confidently than Dunn considering Rios also swipes bags.
How should fantasy baseball owners handle Chicago's closer battle?
The trade of Sergio Santos to the Toronto Blue Jays and the shift of wunderkind Chris Sale to the rotation created a void the ChiSox don't expect to fill until the spring. Unless the squad adds outside help, Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and Addison Reed stand as the prime closer competitors.
Thornton was given a shot at the role at the start of 2011 but lasted just a few weeks after being knocked around. His K/9 dropped significantly, but the 35-year-old still has the skills and profile for the gig; if you remove his April hitch, it actually was a Thornton-like season. Does Ventura want to keep him as a setup man? His statistical comeback came in non-save situations, so maybe that's safest for the team.
Crain's effectiveness versus left-handed bats bodes well for him being named stopper. His dominance bump came with another shaky control rate, though, and while closers can often get away with high walk totals, it makes him a blowup risk. Once again, probably a safer slot as a bridge to the closer, though he has a pinch of fireman fare.
The most promise belongs to the 23-year-old Reed, given his closer-of-the-future skills, fastball that sits in the mid-90s and team control. Even if the right-hander doesn't win the gig immediately, his contributions in the K column will place him among the select group of setup RPs that can aid any squad even without offering saves. Ventura could prefer new blood in what might be a rebuilding effort.
We might see a committee. Though Thornton can excel versus righty sticks, as well, that arrangement probably would short him. There'll already be fantasy skepticism over this battle, meaning each could be worth a late-rounds pick at the right moment. If you had to draft today, without a clear direction from the team, Reed should earn your favor merely for the Santos-like upside, but this is hardly cemented.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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