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Fantasy Baseball: Cron’s Playing Time Limited by Ibanez

Nicholas Minnix Contributing Writer May 9, 2014 7:57PM EDT
Playing time is the most difficult element to quantify in player projections. Performance is a determinant, and the rates of that aspect are just approximations, far from guarantees. Although one can estimate the effects of things like injuries and managerial decisions on some players more easily than others, it’s virtually impossible to account for unexpected events.

The anticipation of changes in playing time based on in-depth looks into known circumstances can be extremely useful for in-season team management, then, especially in deep leagues.

Cron Call-up Puts Ibanez on Notice

Did you pick up C.J. Cron after news broke that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim promoted him from Triple-A Salt Lake last weekend?

It’s a good move – both the real one and the Fantasy one. Cron, 24, is a .289/.332/.501 hitter in 325 minor league games. The 2011 17th-rounder is a college product and therefore likely more polished than the average prospect who has made only 122 plate appearances at the Class AAA level. He may not hit consistently at the MLB level, at least not right away, but the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder packs some punch. He’s 8-for-19 with three doubles in 19 at-bats since his call-up.

It’s unfortunate that at-bats probably won’t be available in the near future, though. David Freese (hairline fracture in middle finger of right hand), Kole Calhoun (severe ankle sprain) and Josh Hamilton (April thumb surgery) should all be back by early June. Albert Pujols is going nowhere, barring a health issue. Raul Ibanez, even though he’s struggled, would stand in Cron’s way.

Raul Ibanez could lose his roster spot to C.J. Cron. Photo Credit: Tony Quinn

Raul Ibanez could lose his roster spot to C.J. Cron. Photo Credit: Tony Quinn

Of course, it doesn’t have to break that way. There has been speculation that Cron will displace Ibanez once the 25-man roster becomes crowded. The 41-year-old veteran has a .146/.226/.281 slash line with three round-trippers in 106 plate appearances. He’s a liability on defense and is playing in left field only because of all the injuries.

But it seems unlikely that they’d pull the plug so soon. The Halos are aware that Ibanez’s worst month in terms of production has been April, historically. In recent seasons, he’s posted some robust power numbers after the All-Star break, even as a member of the ballpark and personnel-challenged Seattle Mariners in 2013. When the regular lineup is intact, the rest of the team can carry the Angels, perhaps with ease. They have one of the top offenses in baseball. The organization may be looking for any excuse to give the slugger some leeway.

Still, reality may be setting in. Ibanez, who’s on a one-year deal for a mere $2.75 million, turns 42 in June. His contact rate dipped significantly last season, and it’s worse this year. Results in early May are no more encouraging. Major league baseball has become a younger man’s game.

Cron has staying power. The odds may not favor him now or in three weeks, but he’s made good impressions on the Halos’ staff, not just in this MLB stint but also in spring training. They believe that his bat plays at this level. Fantasy owners, including those in some mixed leagues of 12 teams, should be willing to hold – even if and when he’s optioned to Salt Lake. They should also follow Ibanez’s exploits, even if the news doesn’t. The left-handed hitter still can control the strike zone, so he may turn it around. But if he doesn’t, then Cron’s bat is one Fantasy owners will be glad to have.

Flores to Displace Tejada

The New York Mets hope that Wilmer Flores will give their offense a jolt.

They’re particularly displeased that Ruben Tejada has essentially been nonexistent in the batter’s box (.183/.302/.207 in 98 plate appearances). Based on any value metric for offense (wins above replacement, runs above average, weighted runs created, etc.), the Metropolitans would actually be a lot better off if he didn’t exist. That continues a trend which Tejada established in 57 games during a substandard 2013.

To make the matter worse, metrics for defense suggest that Tejada’s efforts at shortstop have not only failed to make up for his bat but have also had a negative impact. That picture is different from previous campaigns. In addition, the organization hasn’t made much of an effort to conceal its disappointment in the youngster, with questions about his work ethic having arisen after he worked out under team supervision this past winter.

OK, Tejada sucks. He’s surely not even owned in some NL-only leagues. Why is all that important? Because Flores’ case for playing time may not be strong, otherwise.

Flores’ value will come from his performance on offense, no question. After a breakthrough 2012 in which he advanced to Double-A Binghamton, the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder hit .321/.357/.531 with 15 home runs in 463 plate appearances in 2013 with Triple-A Las Vegas. He’s batted .307/.360/.500 with five ding dongs in 126 plate appearances this season for the Stars. Last season, he finished with a .211/.248/.295 line in his big league debut, but he went .300/.333/.420 with only six strikeouts in his first 54 trips to the plate.

There’s certainly evidence that the Venezuelan can help. But numbers in the Pacific Coast League are notoriously inflated, and Las Vegas’ home park is perhaps the most hitter-friendly in the minors. Flores’ rates of strikeouts on the farm aren’t discouraging, but his plate discipline has long been in question, with flaws that are much more obvious against major league hurlers. The team has called his defense at shortstop, a position he hadn’t played in two years before this one, “passable,” but the Mets would have a hard time finding someone outside the organization who agrees.

Plus, it’s still not entirely clear how the Mets feel about Tejada. At one time, they were apologists. But the team’s motives have been questioned publicly, however fairly, because of things like the spread of rumors. At 23, Tejada could still have a bright major league future ahead of him, in theory.

But at this point, the relationship between player and organization must be strained. Whether Tejada’s play is more of a reflection of his ability or his discontent in the Big Apple, he and the club don’t appear long for each other. The Mets could be forced to go back to him at some point, but it’d seem less likely to be a matter of choice.

This is a good opportunity for Flores. The reality is that more time at Las Vegas, where’s he’s spent a full season cumulatively, probably wouldn’t do him much good. Exaggerated positive results can reward and diminish incentives to work on flaws. He may be a butcher on defense, but his team has already expressed its reduced concern for that aspect of the game with other players. If Flores hits, even a little, then Terry Collins and Co. seem likely to put up with whatever mistakes he’ll make in the field.

Fantasy owners in 15-team mixed leagues and deeper should definitely be interested in Flores. Those in shallower leagues can keep an eye on him, but they may want to take a flier if they’re desperate in the middle infield, in case he gets off to another hot start. He’s far from sure thing, but he offers more hope than most of the MIs who are typically available.

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