Utility players on a baseball team are often overlooked as roster fillers but can eventually spell the difference for a team's long-term success in a season. Fantasy baseball holds this same principle.
Versatile players that can be placed into multiple slots on a fantasy roster - especially at shallower positions such as third base, second base, catcher and shortstop - can offer an advantage to managers. This can be attained through substitutions for inactive or slumping players or allowing managers to unleash some trade bait.
Because of this, a moderately priced player that gains eligibility at multiple positions all of a sudden sees a spike in value.
Benefits of Multi-Positional Players
Although acquiring multi-talented players won't guarantee you a title on the spot, this strategy can save some heartburn during the wear and tear of a baseball season.
Flex players can keep your stats flowing. On the typical Monday and Thursday lay-offs in action during the season, having the extra guy on the bench that can play both middle infield spots can help in the non-ratio stats.
Utility players will give managers easy replacement for injuries. Whether sliding over starters or calling on their bench players
Some 2007 Examples
One big name that can join that list is Cleveland Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner. Ever since his ascension into the upper tier of fantasy mashers, Hafner has been stuck at the utility slot in the lineup, because he was strictly a designated hitter. This season, Hafner wants to see time at first base at least once a week, according to Indians manager Eric Wedge. This would earn him 2008 eligibility there, as well, after expanding his positional horizons for this year.
Always keep an eye out for when players switch positions to make room for up-and-coming youngsters. Kansas City Royals third baseman Mark Teahen converted to the outfield this year to make way for super prospect Alex Gordon. Tampa Bay Devil Rays third baseman B.J. Upton has now earned second-base time, an extremely shallow position for a player with heavy upside, as a result of both diminishing skill at the hot corner and the eventual coming of Evan Longoria.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia is a flex player's best friend, as the Angels have several positional dynamos. Outfielder/third baseman/second baseman Chone Figgins can give you a great advantage in steals at multiple positions. Second baseman/first baseman Howie Kendrick gives managers an up-and-coming stud that can float along the right side of the infield.
Catcher-eligible players are another haven for the lucky owner to pluck from the waiver wire. Last year, Florida Marlins "catcher"/outfielder Josh Willingham earned enough time behind the plate to present fantasy owners with a gift-wrapped 26 home runs in 2006.
Mike Piazza, the greatest hitting catcher in the history of baseball, holds his eligibility from the San Diego Padres last year, even as a DH. What's better than a 25-homer potential catcher that doesn't have to squat behind the plate or take too many days off?
Even the middle-tier players can help in single categories. For example, Boston Red Sox second baseman/shortstop Julio Lugo is a flex threat for 100 runs. Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman/shortstop/third baseman Freddy Sanchez is the defending National League batting champ. And of course, flex legend Cincinnati Reds second baseman/outfielder Ryan Freel has been a haven for steals.
Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Troy Glaus can also play at shortstop in some leagues. To have a shortstop who can hit for power like Glaus can, owners can focus on getting more well-rounded bats in the first few rounds before worrying about the shortstop hole. However, he's on the disabled list now.
Don't Lean On Flexibility
One caveat: rumored transitions don't always come to fruition. An example from this year is Washington Nationals infielder Felipe Lopez. He logged time in Cincinnati last year as a shortstop before being traded to Washington at the deadline. Lopez was slated to switch to second base this year, so managers drafted him accordingly. However, that plan has not panned out yet. As of Sunday, Lopez has only played two games at second (10 at shortstop), thereby not reaching second base requirements. He needs at least eight appearances or three starts to fill that spot in most leagues.
For managers relying on Lopez at second, this creates a logjam at short. Those who drafted Lopez could be facing a logjam at short early on; Lopez owners could be staring at a fantasy scrub at second while they wait for him to become available to play there. That wasn't what his owners planned for back in March.
Despite the fact that Lopez will most likely reach his eligibility goals, this is an example that shows that relying solely on flexibility can backfire.
2007 To Watch Out For
Here are some noteworthy early opportunities for position eligibility changes.
Texas Rangers starter Brandon McCarthy is still listed as a relief pitcher in most formats, but his time in the rotation will cure this emptiness.
Blue Jays utility player Adam Lind needs nine appearances and four starts to gain eligibility for an outfield spot. With outfielder Reed Johnson on the disabled list, Lind should reach this level soon.
Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Brad Eldred has a chance to sneak in first base eligibility with four more starts or eight appearances. In NL-only leagues, this could be worth some points later on in the season.
Multi-faceted position players can often act as trump cards in fantasy sports. Although it is important to recognize the positives of flex players, don't become infatuated with them. Rational owners would of course account for skill level and playing time. Watch your league's eligibility requirements, and try to spot the players that can help you at several positions.
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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