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Fantasy baseball

Posted by Ed Ryan February 26, 2009 05:53 AM

In 2008 the Red Sox finished third in runs scored (with 845, behind Texas and the Cubs) despite an off year from David Ortiz, the trade of Manny Ramirez, and virtually no production from the catcher position. True, the Sox had Ramirez for the first four months of the season, and his replacement in left field, Jason Bay, was solid, but Boston was able to maintain the offensive excellence it has displayed for most of this decade because of patience (the Red Sox led the majors in walks) and depth.

So at your upcoming baseball draft, it won’t be a bad idea to keep a bunch of Red Sox on your radar. Ramirez and his big numbers are long gone, but an interesting mix of position players remains. Boston’s pitching staff/bullpen is also loaded with fantasy-worthy selections, but for now, let’s consider the batters. Here’s a primer on the lineup and what each player should mean to you on draft day.

Catcher Don’t bother. Jason Varitek is the starter, and Josh Bard is the backup. Varitek was certainly fantasy material up until a few years ago, but those days are over. Don’t waste a pick on either player until the season starts and we find out who has earned the bulk of the playing time.

1B After he finished third in the MVP voting, it will be interesting to see how high Kevin Youkilis gets picked. A first-round selection is out of the question, but if you can sign up again for 29 bombs, 115 RBI, 43 doubles, and a .390 OBP, you could do a lot worse in the second round.

2B Another interesting case: Where will the AL MVP get drafted? Dustin Pedroia (below) is not a reach in the first round because of the position he plays. How many dominant second basemen are available? With Chase Utley’s health a question mark, Pedroia could be gone by the second round.

3B If you draft Mike Lowell, proceed with caution and make sure you have a backup plan. Lowell is 35 and coming off hip surgery. He did post a respectable 17 homers and 73 RBI in 419 at-bats in ’08, but consider Lowell only later in the draft, where he’ll be a bargain or a backup.

SS Jed Lowrie seemed like the incumbent until Julio Lugo showed up at camp with an upper body from the WWE. You still have to assume the job is Lowrie’s, but Lugo would be a smart pick very late in your draft (after Lowrie), because if Lowell can’t go or is banged up, you’ll see Lowrie at third and Lugo at short.

LF Jason Bay was 13th in fantasy points among all batters last season in my league, which weighs the traditional offensive stats (homers, RBI, runs) heavily. Bay’s overall numbers were excellent, and the fact that he finished with more fantasy points than A-Rod and Hanley Ramirez shocked me. Consider Bay early.

CF Jacoby Ellsbury has displayed all the offensive tools except power, and if you’re looking for steals (50 in ’08) and runs (98 in ’08), look no further. Ellsbury had 554 at-bats last season and should land in the same vicinity this season. If he’s available in the middle of your draft, he’ll be a bargain.

RF Things are a bit absurd when you see “J.D. Drew” and “sore back” in the same sentence on the first day of spring training. Drew has spent two years in Boston and has averaged 417 at-bats, 15 home runs, 64 RBI, 26 doubles, and a .390 OBP. If you’re in a category-based league, you’ll love his OBP, but otherwise, stay away. It’s great riding his yearly hot streak, but otherwise he’ll drive you crazy. If it sounds as though I speak from experience, you’ve caught on fast.

DH/1B The perception of an in-decline David Ortiz will prevent him from being selected in the first round, and there’s something about a lingering wrist injury that will scare folks off, too. But Ortiz looks great, and if you can sweat out waiting for him to fall to you in the late second or early third round, you’ll have yourself a steal.

Ed Ryan writes about fantasy sports and betting for OT and can be reached at ed_ryan@globe.com

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