Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: St. Louis Cardinals
How reliable will Adam Wainwright be after Tommy John surgery?
Nicholas Minnix examined this in conjunction with news that Waino is ahead of schedule. It generally takes up to a few months of on-mound work for a successful recovery of command and maximum pre-knife velocity with this procedure, but he'll be more than one year removed from it when this season commences.
Arms returning from TJS frequently exceed expectations of skeptical drafters, depending on the situation. This isn't a Jorge De La Rosa type with a shaky profile returning midseason; it's a Cy Young contender working within a favorable schedule for delivering something close to - if not a repeat of - his 2009-2010 brilliance. Even if he takes a bit longer to show it this year, Wainwright's control is one of the best when he's on point.
He's already snapping off curveballs - a more aggressive timetable than new skipper Mike Matheny, pitching coach Dave Duncan and fantasy baseball owners want to hear. Even with the risks that come with an aggressive push, the fact he was pitching throughout his career with a partially torn elbow ligament means he might be more comfortable with his new fixture sooner than many think. Duncan also has guided several arms back from this procedure in recent years, including Jaime Garcia during the lefty's brilliant 2010; who else would you rather have in your corner as you regain your rhythm?
As Minnix hinted, however, you're almost hoping Wainwright stumbles in the preseason to confirm slightly diminished expectations and bring his cost down. (We fantasy baseballers dabble in sadism, after all.) A 200-inning season is a long shot, but 170ish could still yield a frontline fantasy profit. Though no penny stock, he's a proven fantasy ace you can grab on the cheap in the right room. If you miss out on draft day, any delay in skills recovery that lasts into the summer would create a buying opportunity.
Will David Freese build on his late-2011 breakthrough?
Before last summer, the third sacker was regarded as a batting-average-first commodity with power that could eventually develop. His eight homers in the final three months boosted his cred; his World Series glory shot him into the stratosphere.
His 2011 tales weren't all tall, but some remain cautionary. Freese's grounder rate dwarfs his fly-ball frequency, so you could argue his HR/FB was fortunate. He's no stranger to the disabled list, having spent chunks of the last two campaigns on the sidelines, including 2011 surgery on a broken bone in his left hand that cost him 51 games. The Cards lost Albert Pujols this offseason.
Still, Freese's makeup, even with its flaws, is no myth. He handles righty arms effectively to complement his southpaw smashing and hard contact; he took a sizeable leap forward in his connecting frequency, too. Six of his 10 regular-season taters went the opposite way - a telltale sign of growth. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has some untapped pop, especially given how much time he has missed; look at how his taters came around following his hand procedure. Sitting in the middle of the order, even sans Albert, would play to his RBI promise.
Playoff valor often inflates basement value, especially that of a soon-to-be 29-year-old, upside-teasing member of an improving but shaky hot-corner pool. He might be overvalued - in Missouri or elsewhere - and could easily fail to reach the next level, especially with homers, this season if he can't combine all his promising pieces.
Is the juice worth the Freese? It might take him one or two more years to blossom, but his realistic 15-homer floor, clip proficiency and potential middle-of-the-order lineup spot warrant a mixed corner infield bid with a palpable chance to receive much more in return.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous publications, and recognized as a finalist in FSWA's awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he's on The Reality Check with Glenn Clark every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. He hits the airwaves every Thursday at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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