I've been bemoaning it for months, but I'll be damned if it doesn't continue to infuriate me that Orlando Hudson doesn't have a job, in February, for the second year in a row. He is, nonetheless, included on my list, along with fellow unsigned free agent, Felipe Lopez.
1. Chase Utley (Phillies)
2. Ian Kinsler (Rangers)
3. Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox)
4. Brandon Phillips (Reds)
Not long ago, the big question at second base was, "Who don't I take if I don't get Jeff Kent?" The pickings were slim. But in recent years, the field has gotten progressively better, led, of course, by Chase Utley, a perennial MVP candidate who should be among the top five players off the board and will cost you close to $40 in an auction.
Some will be surprised that I rank Phillips among the elite options, but I like the consistency of his across-the-board production and, at 28, I think his best season may still be in front of him. He's been 20/20 for three years running and with more lineup protection has a legit shot at going 30/30 (as he did in '07), to go along with at least 80 R and 90 RBI. Phillips is the picture of health, with 550+ plate appearances in each of the last four seasons.
5. Robinson Cano (Yankees)
6. Aaron Hill (Blue Jays)
7. Ben Zobrist (Rays) [also eligible at SS and OF in many leagues]
There is a very strong argument for passing on the elite guys and jumping on the second tier this season, as each of these options has the potential to perform at the elite level. What keeps them out of the first tier is merely consistency. Hill and Zobrist had breakout seasons in '09, but they need to prove themselves more than "one-hit wonders." Personally, I think both are legit, as they showed consistent progression in both power and discipline throughout the minor leagues and in their first few big-league seasons.
Cano offers a slightly different quandary. He put up the biggest season of an already impressive career in '09 directly following his atrocious '08 campaign, so many will wonder what to trust. I think he's about to blossom into a batting champ. Obviously, you can't complain about his situation, hitting in the middle of a loaded lineup at a ballpark built for left-handed hitters. Cano will continue to see lots of good pitches and have plenty of run-producing opportunities. Also, as good as his '09 was as a whole, he was even better in the second half. In the final three months he hit .341 with a 925 OPS.
8. Brian Roberts (Orioles)
9. Dan Uggla (Marlins)
10. Ian Stewart (Rockies) [actually plays 3B, but eligible at 2B in most leagues]
11. Jose Lopez (Mariners)
These are your "category" options in roto leagues, each of whom excels at some aspect of the game, but could hurt you in others. Roberts hit 16 HR last season, which was the second-highest total of his career, and drove in 79 runs, which was a career high. I don't expect him to reach or exceed those totals in 2010. However, he will once again be among the league leaders in runs scored, with excellent stolen base totals and a decent average.
The other three are inversions of Roberts. Each has unusual power for the positions, but they are "all or nothing" kinds of hitters, who don't reach base often and don't offer much speed when they do. Lopez will hit for a slightly higher average than Uggla or Stewart, but '09 was his first 25 HR season, where Uggla has hit 30+ for three years running. Stewart is the high-risk/high-reward option here. He's only 25-years-old and spent much of '09 as a platoon player, so there's plenty of room for improvement, but there's also room for a sophomore slump, as he's a free swinger with plenty of holes (see Chris Davis). The Rockies just added Melvin Mora to their bench, suggesting that Stewart may only be one bad month from finding himself back in a platoon, and two bad months from Colorado Springs.
12. Howie Kendrick (Angels)
13. Gordon Beckham (White Sox) [also eligible at 3B in most leagues]
14. Rickie Weeks (Brewers)
15. Martin Prado (Braves) [also eligible at 3B and 1B in many leagues]
16. Casey McGehee (Brewers) [also eligible at 3B in most leagues]
This tier is all about "upside." Unless you're in a very deep league, you'd prefer that none of these guys be your first-string middle infielder, but at a utility spot, or otherwise provide depth, they offer tons of potential. One of the great tragedies of '09 was Rickie Weeks wrist injury. In the seasons opening weeks he looked like he was headed for the monster season that his owners have been expecting for years. Hopefully, that breakout is just on a ten month delay. Be cautious though. It can take a player more than a full season to re-strengthen he wrist after a major injury (see Derrek Lee and David Ortiz), so Weeks power, the quality which makes him so tempting, may not return until 2011.
McGehee replaced Weeks in Milwaukee and his performance (.301, 16 HR, 66 RBI) helped keep the Brewers in contention much longer than if they'd turned second base over to Craig Counsell. As such, McGehee earned a starting position going into 2010, at third base. I doubt, however, that he will be able to keep it. McGehee's '09 numbers look extraordinarily flukish. He never had an average above .300 or an OPS above 800 in the minors. Maybe he "discovered" his stroke upon being promoted, but I'd bet that he's just as likely to "lose" it again. The Brewers top hitting prospect, Mat Gamel, will be nipping at his heels, so he probably doesn't have much leash. By midseason, McGehee will be a utilityman.
17. Placido Polanco (Phillies) [will be eligible at 3B early in the season]
18. Orlando Hudson (Nationals?)
A couple of oldies, but goodies. If you need a stable presence, I would actually recommend taking O-Dog or Polly ahead of some of the guys in the previous tier, because though unspectacular, each is dependable. Oddly, I might even argue that Polance has a little upside, at the age of 34, because he'll be hitting somewhere in the middle of the loaded Phillies lineup (I'm guessing either second or seventh). I think he's a safe bet for .300-80-10-80-5, which isn't exactly mouth-watering, but is solid production from a guy who you can get as your third or fourth infielder.
My passion for Hudson is well-documented, but I'll simply remind everybody that he was damn good in the first half of '09 (All-Star worthy, in fact) and not nearly as bad as people think in the second half. Recent rumors have him headed to D.C., which would be a good fit for his fantasy owners, as he'd be a lock for everyday at-bats and would probably hit near the top of the order, right in front of Z-Pack and Big Donkey (Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn).
19. Clint Barmes (Rockies)
20. Alberto Callaspo (Royals)
21. Kelly Johnson (D-Backs)
22. Luis Valbuena (Indians)
23. Felipe Lopez (?)
These are what you might call "deep sleepers," they offer a little upside, but they're equally likely to bomb, as Johnson did in Atlanta last season. Callaspo was excellent for the his owners in '09, but he's a butcher in the field, which means he's likely to lose at-bats to new additions Chris Getz and Josh Fields in 2010. If he can manage to hold onto an everyday job (perhaps at DH?), he jumps into the top 15 at least.
Likewise, Lopez is a proven hitter, but very few franchises still have openings, so wherever he lands, he'll spend part of the season fighting for opportunities. Unless you're in a very, very deep league, not all of these guys will be drafted, so track their progress and be ready to pounce if one of them establishes himself.
24. Akinori Iwamura (Pirates)
25. Mark Ellis (Athletics)
26. Skip Schumaker (Cardinals)
27. Ron Belliard (Dodgers)
28. Luis Castillo (Mets)
29. Kaz Matsui (Astros)
Everyday players always have value in deep fantasy leagues, but this is the bottom of the barrel as far as starters go. There's no power here and only minimal speed, but at least they won't hurt you too bad if you get stuck with one of them, as all are capable of hitting between .280 and .300.
30. Maicer Izturis (Angels) [also eligible at 3B and SS in most leagues]
31. Chris Getz (Royals)
32. Jeff Baker (Cubs) [also eligible in OF in many leagues]
33. Mike Fontenot (Cubs) [also eligible at 3B in many leagues]
These guys seem destined for timeshares. Baker, Fontenot, and Getz were all popular sleepers headed in to 2009. It's possible that the hype was just a year too early and one of them might assert himself this year. Izturis is among Mike Scioscia's favorite players, because he plays great defense at all the premium infield positions and is a solid small-ball hitter who batted .300 in '09. However, he doesn't present nearly as much value in fantasy leagues because he's never gotten 400 AB. Again this year he will probably be backing up Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrik, while sharing time with Brandon Wood at third base. If Wood bombs, then Izturis could finally become an everyday player, in which case I'd bump him up a couple tiers.
34. Eric Patterson (Athletics)
35. Eric Young Jr. (Rockies)
36. Ian Desmond (Nationals)
37. Sean Rodriguez (Rays)
Nice prospects, but completely irrelevant unless there is a serious injury to one of their major-league counterparts.