What I Learned This Week, Fantasy Edition (6/7)

The big news in baseball circles this week was the trade of Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth to the Braves for three prospects warm bodies.  Okay — what the Pirates received back from Atlanta may have been better than that, but it’s nothing for Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington to be proud of — and it’s certainly nothing that resembles an “offer that he couldn’t refuse”, as he implied the day of the trade.  I’m not alone in being skeptical of the move; Pirates fans (or what’s left of them at this point) have greeted news of the trade with disdain, and Huntington has been forced by the negative public reaction to issue a statement to the season-ticket holders and fans in an attempt to explain away the trade.

As extinct as fans of the Pirates

As extinct as fans of the Pirates

I’m not buying it.  To paraphrase a comment Mel Kiper once had about the Jets, it’s clear to me at this point that the Pirates front office has no idea as to how to build a competitive team — or maybe, it’s that they don’t really care to.  Either way, it doesn’t really matter.  The long-suffering fans in Pittsburgh have watched as their franchise got their publicly-funded new stadium and their annual revenue from the luxury tax — and yet, none of that money seems to be getting put back either in player contracts or their minor league system.  The commitment they made to McLouth in the form of a contract extension they signed in February — when they claimed to be investing money into their young talent base in order to build a winner — lasted all of two and a half months of the season.  Is their any wonder that die-hard Pirate fans are on their way to becoming as extinct as the Dodo bird?

Huntington must have thought he was trading for this Locke instead

Huntington must have thought he was trading for this Locke instead

So far as the trade goes, it’s a steal for the Braves, who receive a productive outfielder in McLouth who’s signed for a bargain price of only $11 million total for 2010 and 2011 (he’s making a paltry-by-today’s standards $2 million for 2009), with a club option for 2012 (at $10.65 million) and give up no one resembling a top prospect.  The “centerpiece” of the deal, Charlie Morton, had a decidedly unimpressive minor-league pedigree up until last season’s breakthrough in AAA; while he’s shown some flashes at that level over the last year and a half, he was lit up in his 15 starts in Atlanta last year, and my feeling is that he’s not much more than a back-of-the-rotation starter at best — something the Pirates seem to have developed in droves over the last few years.  The other two acquisitions, Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke (isn’t that one of the bigwigs on Lost?), look a whole lot like the Andy LaRoches and Brandon Mosses of past deals, mediocre players who won’t bring a winner to Pittsburgh anytime soon.

The Pirates traded McLouth for WHAT?  Fuck the Pirates, then. Fuck them up their stupid asses.

The Pirates traded McLouth for WHAT? Fuck the Pirates, then. Fuck them up their stupid asses.

What’s even more frustrating (if that’s possible) if you’re a Pittsburgh fan is to see the NL Central apparently wide open (Milwaukee and Cincinnati are both withing striking distance of the lead, and the Pirates were only 6 games out when the trade was made) and to wonder what chances the team might have had to contend if they hadn’t given away Jason Bay last year as well.  To paraphrase a great philosopher from the movie Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, what’s left of the Pirate faithful have to be asking themselves — “When, Lord when? When’s gonna be my time?”  With a front office like this one, probably never.

— If you’re in a league that allows daily lineup changes, an injury that leaves a player with the dreaded “day-to-day” distinction isn’t such a big deal — you can simply bench the player each morning and wait until you see him back in the lineup before reactivating him.

If you’re in a league with weekly transactions, however, there may be nothing quite as frustrating as watching a player who’s “day-to-day” proceed to sit out for the entire week — all while you have better options on your bench that you can’t do anything with.

With that in mind, I give you your fragile — and frustrating — player of the week — Josh Willingham.

Ironically, I was about ready to give Willingham somewhat of a vote of approval before this past week.  After starting the season in a reserve role, Willingham had begun to see some additional playing time due to the demotion of Lastings Milledge and the suckitude of Austin Kearns, and he seemed to be on his way to taking control of an everyday job in Washington.  In the month of May, he’d hit .303 with 8 HR in 76 at-bats with a 1.093 OPS — a solid performance that, considering his presence on waiver wires around much of fantasy baseball, made him an interesting flyer for teams to gamble on if they needed power.  With a hole to fill in my main team’s outfield, I had plucked Willingham off of waivers a couple of weeks ago and had been pleasantly surprised with his production.  I’d even been optimistic that I’d found a long-tern solution in him for the rest of the season.

What I hadn’t counted on, however, was how easily he was going to find himself forced out of the lineup.

Willingham hasn’t played since last Sunday.  Why, those of you who don’t own him might ask?  Was it a strained hamstring, or a torn ligament in his elbow?  Maybe a blown knee, or a sore wrist from being drilled by an errant pitch, robbing him of his power?

Get a bottle ready -- for both Willingham AND his fantasy owners

Get a bottle ready -- for both Willingham AND his fantasy owners

Nope.  Try a frickin’ upset stomach instead.

Apparently, Willingham caught a stomach virus — an ailment that all of us have suffered from at one time or another — though, I’m pretty sure most of us haven’t been as disabled as this “major league athlete” apparently has been.  Willingham returned to the batting cage on Friday, but that didn’t lead to a return to the Nationals lineup.  The missed game count is at six — and worse yet, that could only be the beginning — as some reports have Willingham as a possible candidate for the disabled list now.

Are you kidding me?  There’s plenty of reasons for me to greet this news with what I think is an appropriate amount of disgust.  Maybe I could focus on the fact that, in the weekly moves fantasy league I own him in, I got a whopping zero at-bats from him in the last scoring period while I helplessly had him active, guessing that there would be no way anything short of food poisoning and a hospital trip could keep him out of the lineup this long.  Or maybe I could focus on the fact that I once had a case of food poisoning that was so bad, it required just that — and it nearly killed me (I spent almost a week in the hospital and lost almost 30 pounds from my already svelte frame in the ordeal) — and even I managed to get myself back to my job following that awful experience in a time-frame that looks like it’ll be quicker that Willingham will.   Or maybe I could focus on the fact that millions of us have dealt with what Willingham apparently has and made it to work, even not feeling 100% — while being paid a fraction of what he does for the lucky chance to make a living as a professional athlete.

Maybe the problem isn’t in his stomach at all.  Maybe Willingham might have been able to make his way back into the lineup a little quicker if his team wasn’t a putrid 15-40, and headed for one of the worst seasons in recent memory in the National League.  I’m guessing that, more than some antibiotics or a big bottle of Pepto-Bismol, the thing that would be most likely to make Willingham feel like trudging his way back out onto the field a little faster might be if he were on a team that actually won once in a while.

Then again, playing when you’re not 100% and the team you’re on sucks is supposed to be what being a professional is all about.  If Willingham can’t live up to that, he won’t be the first nor the last player to let the paying customer called the fan down.

This guy and Willingham have a lot in common

This guy and Willingham may have more in common than you first realized

Meanwhile, Willingham’s nickname is reportedly “The Hammer”.  I’m thinking he should go by “The Tin Man” instead.  It’s much more appropriate for a player who I’ll never be confusing with either Lou Gerhig or Cal Ripken in the future.

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