Detroit Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson (finger) was one of the most successful fantasy sleepers last year with a .302 batting average, 23 home runs, 122 runs scored and 26 stolen bases. He helped ignite the Tigers lineup from the leadoff spot as the Tigers competed for a playoff spot.
Now, the Tigers - considered by many to be the favorites in the American League this season - will have to start the season without their catalyst atop the order. Granderson was hit on the hand by a pitch in an exhibition game Saturday, March 22, and suffered a fractured right middle finger. He will inhabit the 15-day disabled list as the first pitch is thrown come opening day. The Tigers will install a makeshift center fielder (utility man Brandon Inge) and leadoff hitter (shortstop Edgar Renteria and possibly catcher Ivan Rodriguez against left-handed pitching) as Granderson heals. The speedy outfielder also puts a hole in the core of most fantasy teams that cashed in on his exciting 2007 season.
A Broken Table-setter
Granderson has been as reliable as they come in the past two seasons, missing only seven regular season contests during that time. Granderson told reporters that he could miss a minimum of three weeks and most likely would need another week after that in order to resume baseball activities. Even when he does return, pain could possibly linger when Granderson tries to swing the bat or throw the ball.
The Tigers and fantasy owners lose an impact base stealer from their lineup. The five-category contributor showed exponential growth last season, increasing his stolen base attempts from 13 in 2006 to 27 in '07. The 27-year-old also slashed his strikeout total from 174 to 141 - another sign of growth for a leadoff hitter. These reasons, along with him entering his prime power years, were factors that made Granderson a third-round pick, on average, in this year's fantasy drafts.
After an offseason of floating in the trade winds, Inge now has a chance to display his positional versatility in center field, where he has played 20 career games. In the last three seasons (470 games), he has hit .251 while averaging 19 dingers. However, his only value is as a short-term flier in AL-only leagues. He is too much of a hacker and isn't guaranteed enough playing time by the time Granderson comes back. This could be used as an audition to boost Inge's trade value, but fantasy owners shouldn't rely on him.
Renteria and Rodriguez are already top-200 commodities in fantasy baseball, so the effects of the lineup switch would only be expected to augment their runs scored. Renteria was called the "logical" choice to fill in for Granderson by manager Jim Leyland, though he also said he prefers Renteria to hit lower in the order. Renteria has a .282 career average from the No. 1 spot with six home runs and 26 RBIs in 248 at-bats. Rodriguez has had a power surge this spring with a league-high eight home runs, and he could see time atop the order against left-handed pitching. He had 65 at-bats from the leadoff spot last season in which he hit .277 with one homer and three RBIs.
Granderson owners shouldn't regret drafting him because of his ability to contribute in all five categories and the lack of injuries he has had in his relatively short career. Granderson should not be dealt unless you can find third-round value for him, which is highly unlikely. At this point, you shouldn't panic; despite the declining outfield depth, you can still find someone to fill in while he's out of the Tigers lineup. A normal recovery time would still put Granderson in line for about 500 at-bats - enough to justify spending a third-round pick on him.
Replacing a potential 30-steal outfielder is never a pleasant task, and those who drafted him were likely relying on him for early-round steals. If fantasy owners don't have a backup outfielder already in tow, they could find a suitable replacement on the waiver wire in shallow leagues. Possible players that are available include the San Francisco Giants' Rajai Davis, the Pittsburgh Pirates' Nate McLouth, the New York Yankees' Melky Cabrera and the Minnesota Twins' Carlos Gomez.
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.
Don't miss these great reports....