Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove: Nick Markakis, Stephen Drew, Anthony Rizzo, Hisashi Iwakuma, more

by Tim Heaney on January 6, 2012 @ 13:09:43 PDT


Your fantasy baseball draft isn't far off.'s Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove surveys free agency, trades, salary arbitration and injuries that will affect your rotisserie or head-to-head baseball league. You're cleared for your MLB offseason program: The Arizona Fall League, Baseball Winter Meetings, Rule 5 draft and more will shape your fantasy baseball rankings.

Baltimore Orioles OF Nick Markakis undergoes abdominal surgery

The "significant" Thursday procedure repaired an extensive tear of his rectus abdominus, the "six-pack" muscle. Markakis suffered from abdominal pain - what he thought was a deep bone bruise - in the last few weeks of the 2011 season.

Arizona Diamondbacks SS Stephen Drew
Drew on target for OD?

He hasn't done any offseason work and will be restricted to light spring training reps, but he's doing some walking to keep in shape. This doesn't sound like an easy injury to surmount. Washington Nationals third sacker Ryan Zimmerman had a similar operation last April; he missed six weeks and often looked little like the elite 5 most of us know. Fortunately, Markakis is having it done in January.

Still, Markakis has given his owners abdominal pains over the last few years with his middling power and value fueled by batting average and RBIs. He remains a midrange BA-buoying mixed outfielder with limited homer upside. For those who like good news, your draft mates' fear could lower his price enough to make him worth your attention for depth.

A Markakis absence would clear a path for both Endy Chavez and Nolan Reimold, if they choose internal solutions. The former was a steady stand-in for the Texas Rangers last year and would provide steals and capable batting stats for deep-outfield mixed owners in a bind. The righty-hitting Reimold has platoon risk but still has power and swipes potential. B-more could also give at-bats to Matt Angle or Jai Miller, but they aren't worth consideration in mixed drafts.

SS Stephen Drew on track for Arizona Diamondbacks' opening day

This came from the rehabbing player's mouth in a conversation with D-backs trainer Ken Crenshaw. His formerly broken ankle is recovering, and he seems OK following November sports hernia surgery. Come March, will his timetable be as sunny? 'Zona might have to turn to some combo of Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald to fill in if it isn't.

Drew once again left fantasy owners bewildered before his 2011-ending fracture. Following an 11-homer run from August to the closing of 2010, Drew showed a fraction of that pop last year. His batted-ball results have trended toward improving his batting average at the expense of some power. Unfortunately, he has also endured two straight years of noteworthy contact-rate dips, and his high BABIPs haven't yielded anything special in their BA translation. Drew's pull tendency and issues versus southpaws further cap his upside.

At least he'll turn just 29 before the season starts, so he can soon rediscover his 2008 form. Unlike his older brother, J.D. Drew, Stephen had actually posted numerous healthy seasons before this freak snap. He hasn't had to rely on his home park when it comes to homers, and playing in Kirk Gibson's aggressive base-path style could yield double-digit swipes if his wheels hold up.

Even with some breakthrough promise, his skills say he's merely good, not great, at dipping into each of the five standard fantasy categories. Enough positive pieces remain, however, to make him an acceptable mixed component, if you prefer safety ahead of boom.

UPDATE - 1B Anthony Rizzo heads to Chicago Cubs, P Andrew Cashner to San Diego Padres

Rizzo, one of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's former prospects with the Boston Red Sox, hit just .141 in 128 at-bats with the Pads last year, his first MLB action following a hyped minors career. This swap cements recently acquired youngster Yonder Alonso as the Padres' starting 3.

Sure, he had rookie bumps in plate discipline, but don't judge him by that sample alone. PETCO Park was death to most lefty sluggers. Rizzo's picturesque pop swing moves to favorable home digs. Epstein, meanwhile, said recently that Bryan LaHair was Chicago's starting first baseman. Was Rizzo in his plans, or was that decree made under different circumstances?

Rizzo might not be the opening day starter, but you should plan on the Adrian Gonzalez clone taking the reins at some point, making the talented masher an exciting late-rounds CI in deep mixed drafts. As long as you're prepared to front-fill his at-bats, you could be handsomely rewarded. LaHair could be a useful end-gamer, too, with the asterisk that he's more of a short-term stab.

The heat-seeking, grounder-friendly Cashner is promising but hardly safe. His lingering shoulder woes and role uncertainty add long-term risk to his fantasy stock. Still, even if he allows a few more fly balls, he's now in a more favorable environment to be bailed out. He's an NL-only speculation that could climb into mixed relevance this season depending on the Pads' timetable and assignment for him.

Chicago also received 22-year-old right-handed pitcher Zach Cates and shipped away outfielder Kyung-Min Na. The hard-throwing Cates, a former catcher, fanned 111 in 118 frames for Single-A Fort Wayne but still needs polish. The 5-foot-7, 170-pound Na, 20, will probably revisit Double-A; his game is defined by batting average.

Seattle Mariners import SP Hisashi Iwakuma

The Japanese right-hander lands in the AL West after all following a failure to reach an accord with the Oakland Athletics last offseason. He's likely in the lead for a backend rotation spot but is expected to be in a formal competition.

Iwakuma, 30, has dealt with numerous injuries, including shoulder issues that cost him significant time in 2006 and more than two months of action last year. Per scouts, his heat used to touch the mid-90s, and those shoulder maladies might have contributed to the apparent velo drop.

The 6-foot-3, 170-pounder shades to a control-based, innings-eating M.O. with a low-90s fastball that recently touched 93 mph, per M's GM Jack Zduriencik. "Kuma" ("the Bear" in Japanese) also boasts a slider and sinker, which both fuel his grounder friendliness.

He'll garner AL-only attention regardless of role, thanks to his bat-resisting ambience, but should be responsibly pursued by mixed drafters depending on how the rotation battle shakes out. His skills more closely resemble Hiroki Kuroda's than Yu Darvish's. That'll work in the right fantasy circumstance, especially since, despite his 2009 World Baseball Classic stint, he'll boast mystery against opposing hitters in his first MLB season. Still, Iwakuma's K-scrimping approach should limit the bull and remind us of his "bear" market.

This signing clouds the potential for 22-year-old dynamo Danny Hultzen to start the season in the bigs, but even if he doesn't break camp in the starting five, he'll be considered upon the first created opening. The polished Hultzen will deserve attention if he enters the big-league fray.

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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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