Lakers – moving on up in the 2014 NBA draft

We are four games from the midpoint of the 2013-14 NBA season, and the Lakers are 14-23, which is bad enough for the eighth-to-last spot in the league. Or, if you’re a realist, it’s good enough for the 8th pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Please note, this does not take into account where teams will land in the draft lottery. The good news is, is that they are only 2.5 games out of third slot and a higher chance of hitting the jackpot with either the 1st or 2nd overall pick.

It’s no secret that the Lakers are bereft of any real talent or young assets so any selection in the 2014 draft will be a much needed building block into the laying the foundation of the next dynasty. Here’s a look at our top eight prospects that can make a real impact for the Lakers.

1. Andrew Wiggins – Athletic on both ends of the floor. Could score more, but doesn’t need to with such a stellar supporting cast.

2. Jabari Parker – Scores from anywhere on the court and is averaging over seven rebounds.

3. Julius Randle – A solid big averaging a double-double.

4. Marcus Smart – When’s the last time the Lakers had a lightning-quick point guard that could score at will?

5. Joel Embiid – A 7-footer that can move. Embiid is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. Think Serge Ibaka – but taller.

6. Dante Exum – A long, athletic point guard that is toying with the notion of attending college. He won’t.

7. Aaron Gordon – Size and athleticism. Think of an unrefined Blake Griffin.

8. Zach LaVine – Don’t let his youthful looks and slight frame fool you. LaVine can create his own shot and has range.

Kobe won’t be back in action for at least another 2-3 weeks and even when he is, there’s no guarantee that the Lakers can play consistent winning ball. It’s only a matter of time before the Kings, Celtics and Jazz surpass them in the standings, which is a good thing.

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Should Lakers Give Peace a Chance?

If I told you that there was a 36.5 percent chance that there would ever be actual, world peace, the future would look grim.

Segway to Metta World Peace’s field goal percentage of 36.5. Last year, Kobe Bryant was the shot-cyphon shooting 43 percent, making only 10-23 shots per game. World Peace is not only missing his shots, but he’s taking shots away from his more-efficient teammates. WP has made 31 shots in 85 attempts and is averaging 11.8 points per game – his highest as a Laker.

I like Metta as a teammate, and I like him as human, but I don’t like his shot. He’s shot: 1-8, 4-5, 3-10, 7-11, 3-12, 3-14, 6-11, and 4-14. His shooting percentage has declined every year as a Laker and is currently a career low. In the five losses thus far, WP is shooting 30 percent (15-49).

I must admit, it was oddly amazing to see his slam on an alley-oop dunk against the Kings, and he does appear to be more nimble than this point in the season last year. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that he has taken only three fewer shots than Dwight Howard, who is 55-88, or 62.5 percent from the field. There simply aren’t enough basketballs to go around, and like it was with Kobe last year, WP must defer to more efficient teammates.

Still a capable defender that can disrupt a play or two, MWP isn’t the one-on-one defender he once was. Add Mike D’Antoni’s high-flying offense that encourages quick shots, and lots of threes. That’s like putting a kid in a candy store and telling him that he can’t have any candy. Good luck with that.

You can’t reason with MWP on the court. There’s no way anyone is going to tell him that he needs to shoot less. If Kobe hasn’t hinted it before – it ain’t going to happen. The only way to limit his shots is to limit his minutes. It’s up to D’Antoni to cut MWP’s minutes by at least 10-12, while giving more time to Jodi Meeks, Chris Duhon, Devin Ebanks, Earl Clark, and Jordan Hill.

Hey, I don’t mind World Peace, as long as it’s in moderation.

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3 Things Hanley Ramirez Brings to the Dodgers

Hanley Ramirez on Dodgers

Hanley time is going to be a good time. (Jon SooHoo / LA Dodgers)

Like finding a hundred dollar bill in your pocket, or waking up next to a super model, the Dodgers acquisition of superstar shortstop Hanley Ramirez was as pleasant of a surprise Dodgers fans could hope for.

Not only did the offensively-challenged Dodgers snatch up one of the most talented players in baseball, they did it in the middle of the night under everyone’s nose. Surprise blockbuster deals seem to happen often in Los Angeles. From Manny Ramirez, to Pau Gasol, Chris Paul, Albert Pujols, Steve Nash, and Hanley, big moves usually come often, and unexpected.

The addition of Hanley is a much-needed shot of offensive firepower to a squad that lacked impact bats in the middle of the lineup. Kudos to Stan Kasten and Ned Colletti for pulling off such a move, because the timing couldn’t have been better. Hanley brings many qualities to the Dodgers, and if you boil them all down and crystallize them, they can be summed up in three parts.

Production 

It’s no secret that the Dodgers have one of, if not the worst offensive infields in all of baseball. James Loney and Juan Uribe have turned the hot corners cold, and Dee Gordon’s poor on base percentage (.280) , resembles more of an off-base percentage.

Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston Jr. are quality big leaguers, while Luis Cruz, Juan Rivera and Adam Kennedy should be confined to spot starts – not regular at bats. You already know this, but here are the numbers:

Juan Uribe: .196/2/17/.255 (148 AB)
James Loney: .248/2/47/.303 (274 AB)
Jerry Hairston: .299/4/23/.367 (201 AB)
Mark Ellis: .262/3/13/.353 (191 AB)
Dee Gordon: .229/1/17/.280 (301 AB)
Juan Rivera: .256/5/33/.294 (211 AB)
Adam Kennedy: .250/1/15/.331 (144 AB)
TOTAL: .248/18/165/.311 (1,470 AB) / (357) = 4.1

Compare those stats to:

Hanley Ramirez: .249/14/49/.325 (357 AB)

People who focus on what Hanley isn’t are missing the point. They’re not realizing how anemic the Dodgers offense/infield is. So what that his batting average is fifty points lower than his career average. He hits for power, drives in runs, steals bases, scores runs, can play third or short, is only 28 years old, and makes less money than Joe Mauer. Yeah, Mauer still plays professional baseball.

Simply put, Hanley will produce more than all other starting Dodgers infielders combined.

Headaches for opposing pitchers

Hanley Ramirez Dodgers 1

Hanley’s bat will be a welcome addition in the Dodgers lineup. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

When opposing pitchers game plan for the Dodgers, they need only worry about two hitters: Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Gordon can be meddlesome if he gets on base, and Mark and A.J. Ellis are smart hitters who can work the count. Other than that, the Dodgers lineup is pesky at best.

With Hanley in the fold, the Dodgers can keep pitchers on their toes. Kemp and Ethier will see better pitches, and if Hanley hits in the five-hole, expect more runs for the two and more RBIs for him. Essentially, Hanley gives the Dodgers one of the most formidable trios in all of baseball, and opposing pitchers will have to take note.

Star Power

This is L.A., the home of stars. Magic Johnson is an owner, Jack Nicholson a season ticket holder, and Kobe Bryant is one of the best ever. Hollywood became Mannywood, and most undoubtedly will morph into Hanleywood.

Matt Kemp has a big personality, but this town is bigger. Hanley is an outgoing guy in a community that will rally around a Latino star. Ramirez was coddled by the Marlins, who helped create a diva that relied on his talent and infectious smile, while giving less than 100 percent.

Who knows how he will respond, but let’s keep one thing in mind. This is the Dodgers. This is Kemp’s team. This is a brand new start. A change of scenery (it could be much, much worse than L.A.), a winning culture, and a franchise that’s much bigger than any one player should help keep Ramirez realize his lost potential.

For Dodgers fans, who are still recovering from the dark days of the McCourt era, the Ramirez acquisition is a bright as the shortstop’s big smile.

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Jamison brings much needed depth to the Lakers.

Antawn Jamison

Jamison has the opportunity to lead the Lakers bench in scoring. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Nathan Oliver

Antawn Jamison has agreed to a one-year deal with the Lakers, bringing much needed depth and scoring punch to the Purple and Gold.  The Lakers ranked dead last in bench scoring with a paltry 20.5 points per game.  Jamison nearly matched that by himself, averaging over 17 points in 33 minutes on the lowly Cavs.

Matt Barnes did an admirable job off the bench and was one of the few shining spots of the reserves. While everyone else in the hoops world has been concentrating on Dwight Howard, my interest has been focused on talented role players like Jamison, Jermaine O’Neal and Courtney Lee. As it stands, acquiring Dwight Howard is irrelevant if the Lakers don’t have players that can hold a lead when the starters take a breather. Hopefully the Lakers can resign Jordan Hill, who, along with Devin Ebanks should take big steps forward this year. However, even big steps from those two won’t be enough.

While bench scoring isn’t the only key to bringing home hardware (the Heat finished third-to-last in bench scoring with just under 23 points), being able to rely on your bench to score is extremely important. It’s no secret that the second unit squandered leads into deficits, adding minutes to a group of starters that needed rest. The Lakers are long in the tooth; last year they were the third oldest team in the NBA. Next year, the starters will need more rest, so it becomes critical to have players who can protect leads.

Jamison brings a scorers mentality, and a veteran presence to the locker room, which along with Steve Nash, looks to fill the void left by D-Fish. By signing Jamison, the Lakers make a move that looks small on paper, but might pay huge dividends come playoff time. Getting him for the league’s veteran minimum is pure Buss family maneuvering. It looks like there is hope for Jim Buss yet; he may have learned a thing or two from his old man.

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Dwight Howard to the Lakers is the wrong move

Howard’s talents are not needed in L.A.

For those of you who are sick of the Dwight Howard drama, I’ll make this short and sweet. The Lakers should not acquire the exceptionally talented diva for three reasons.

Let’s state the obvious here: Howard doesn’t want to be here, he’s recovering from back surgery, and the Lakers have the second-best young center in basketball. So why does everyone think the Lakers would attempt to make that deal?

First and foremost, as a Lakers fan, I don’t want any player who doesn’t want to be here. This is L.A., the home of Magic, Kareem, Baylor, West, Worthy, Chamberlain, Shaq and Kobe. The Lakers hold the standard for class and winning. Los Angeles is the media capital of the world, where stars are born and images explode.

If Howard would rather take his talents to Brooklyn, by all means, go for it. Apparently winning championships and playing alongside greatness isn’t what Howard wants. That’s cool. We just won’t break our back to get you.

Speaking of breaking backs, how is yours feeling Mr. Howard? Can you guarantee that you’ll be 100 percent healthy by the start of the season? How about one- to two-months into the season, or even by the All-Star break?

Nobody knows what’s up with your back and it would be foolish to trade for a player who is coming off of major surgery. Ankles, knees and backs are career killers and I’d rather not see the Lakers trade for broken players.

When it comes to broken players, Andrew Bynum is no lock to play in all 82 games next year, but at least he’s healthy now. And the last time I checked, Bynum was widely considered the second best center in the NBA behind Howard.

Nobody thinks that the center position is one of weakness on the Lakers, so why risk messing with it? It’s not like the Lakers are going into next season with Joel Pryzbilla or Theo Ratliff at the five.

With the addition of Steve Nash, the Lakers addressed their most glaring need and turned it into a strength. Add some pieces to the bench and this team is a major contender to win the title next year – without Howard.

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What Andrew Bynum’s Max Contract Means

As expected, the Lakers exercised their $16 million team option on Andrew Bynum, keeping the enigmatic center around for at least part of the 2012-13 season. But what after that? Will Bynum be wearing purple and gold for the rest of his career?

Los Angeles Lakers Center, Andrew Bynum

Will the Lakers sign Andrew Bynum to a max contract? (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

Like every off-season, especially one fraught with so much discontent, the Lakers find themselves at ground zero of the rumor mill. Apparently, Bynum will be traded for Dwight Howard, or Pau Gasol for Deron Williams. All of the predictions, speculation, and hearsay amounts to one big steaming pile of Troy Murphy.

I’ll spare you the baseless conjecture and shed some light on what seems to be driving the Lakers decision making heading up to the tight salary cap restrictions of 2013-14 – money.

Understanding the type of contract Bynum will be seeking might provide a bigger picture to the Lakers long-term plans, with personnel and finances.

The new CBA’s salary cap implications won’t go into effect until the 2013-14 season when the Lakers will have committed approximately $61 million to Kobe Bryant, Gasol, Steve Blake and Metta World Peace (all in the final year of their deals).

We won’t know for sure until the salary cap is released in July, but it’s not expected to change much from the $58 mark of 2011-12. Like last year, the salary was still soft ($1-for-$1 over the cap), and will get harder once the 2013-14 season starts, with an increasing penalty scale of:

$0M – 5M $1.50-for-$1
$5M – 10M $1.75-for-$1
$10M – 15M $2.50-for-$1
$15M – 20M $3.25-for-$1

As wealthy and willing to spend as the Lakers have been, I’ll bet that they’ll mind the upcoming luxury tax penalties with extreme prudence.

What is a Max Contract?

Under the new CBA, max contracts are limited to five years, and players with 7-9 years of experience (Bynum) will be eligible for a maximum of $11 million, or 30% of the cap, whichever is worth more. In this case, 30% of the current cap is $17,413,200.

We will use the current cap figure of $58 million because there is no way to project its growth four and five years in advance. However, I do expect the cap to grow in small increments.

Back to Bynum. Thirty percent of the current salary cap over five years, is approximately $87 million. That’s not a bad deal as far as the Lakers are concerned considering that they will have paid him $58 million for four years.

Based on what Bynum will earn next year ($16 million), it’s safe to say that a raise to $17.4 million is the logical next step. If you compare Bynum’s current contract of four years and $58 million with a projected max contract of five years and $87 million – it would be safe to say that the Lakers would be getting their money’s worth.

I say that because if you add a fifth year onto Bynum’s current contract for the same amount he’ll be paid for the 2012-13 season ($16 million), the total would be $74 million. That’s approximately $13-15 million less than the yearly payouts under a projected max contract.

Now if you add the first year of Bynum’s estimated max deal with the final years of Bryant and Gasol’s contracts, you have:

2013-14
Kobe: $30,453,000
Pau: $19,285,000
Bynum: $17,413,200
Total: $67,151,200

Let me remind you that the new luxury tax threshold will be in effect and the Lakers will pay at least $1.50 for every $1 they spend over the salary cap – which should be hovering around $60 million. In this case, the Lakers will be $5 – $10 million over, enacting a $1.75-for-$1 penalty for just these three players.

Injuries and Production

Los Angeles Lakers Andrew Bynum 2Throughout his seven-year career, Bynum has been the very definition of injury-prone. During the previous three seasons, Bynum has played in 179 of 224 games, including all 60 games last year.

He was a non-factor in both championships, and has appeared in every game of a season only twice (2006-07 and 2011-12). It is safe to assume that despite Bynum’s emergence last year as a top-tier center, the Lakers are still wary of his ability to stay healthy.

People forget that the seven-year veteran is only 24 and will turn 25 just before the 2012-13 season. If the Lakers lock him into a five-year deal, they will have him under control through the 2017-18 season when he turns 30. Providing that he stays healthy during those five years, the Lakers can enjoy the ripened fruits of his career.

And in case you forgot about how good that fruit tastes, Bynum averaged 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and 35.2 minutes last year, while starting for the All-Star team and earning All-NBA Second Team honors.

The only way to prove that he’s worth a max deal is to play. Bynum will have to produce at an All-Star level next season if he wants a huge payday.

The Next Step

Will the Lakers wait to see if Bynum holds up during the 2011-12 season, or will they sign him before the season starts, knowing that they will be hard-pressed to find another center of his caliber on the open market?

With the projected max contract Bynum will fetch, there is a greater chance of the Lakers trading for Luke Walton than retaining Bryant, Gasol (who turns 32 in July), and Bynum for the 2013-14 season.

Will they trade Pau? Will they let Bynum go? Will Bynum stay healthy for an entire 82-game season? Will they amnesty World Peace or Gasol? I expect the Lakers to shop Gasol to free up cap space, while building their team around the younger and budding talent of Bynum.

Even if the Lakers trade Bynum for Howard, and Howard agrees to sign a max contract, the Lakers will be faced with the same financial conundrum.

Whichever way you slice it, the Lakers will be forced to make a financial decision based on Bynum’s long-term health and the trade market for Gasol.

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Matt Kemp: Out at least one month

According to team sources, All-Star outfielder Matt Kemp will be sidelined at least a month with what is described as a Grade 1 strain of his hamstring.

Kemp re-injured his hamstring while scoring on Andre Eithier’s double in the first inning against the Brewers May 30. Visibly upset, Kemp broke a bat over his knee in the dugout before entering the clubhouse.

This is another blow to the NL West-leading Dodgers, who called up rookie second baseman Alex Castellanos from Triple-A Albuquerque. Kemp joins Juan Uribe, Justin Sellers, Mark Ellis, and Juan Rivera (Rivera will be activated Friday) on the DL.

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Dodgers Call Up Prospect Alex Castellanos

And another one bites the dust…

Matt Kemp came off of the disabled list and then went back on it quicker than you can say Castellanos. No matter how you slice it, having Kemp go down is a major blow to the Dodgers. Not to worry, there is a silver lining. The Blue Crew called up promising rookie infielder/outfielder Alex Castellanos from Triple-A Albuquerque to play second base.

Acquired from St. Louis in the Rafael Furcal deal last summer, Castellanos has been putting up stellar numbers at every level in the minor leagues. He hit a combined 24 home runs in 125 games for the Dodgers and Cardinals Double-A clubs last year, while batting just over .320. Due to a hamstring injury, Castellanos was limited to only 21 games this year for the Isotopes where he batted .361 with 4 home runs, 12 RBI, and 7 stolen bases.

Dodgers Alex Castellanos

A 10-round pick by the Cardinals out of Division II Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina in 2008, Castellanos was moved from his natural position at second base to the outfield. The Dodgers moved him back to second base, where his defense shined, increasing his value.

Due to multiple injuries to Kemp, Juan Uribe, Justin Sellers, and Mark Ellis, Castellanos will get plenty of opportunities at second base. At the moment, the Dodgers are using a platoon of rookie Elian Herrera and veterans Adam Kennedy and Jerry Hairston (who are also getting time at third). Herrera will platoon with Tony Gwynn Jr. in center field depending on the pitching matchup.

The challenge for most rookies is reaching base and limiting strikeouts. Castellanos posted an OBP of .392 last year in both stops, and had a .465 mark thus far in Albuquerque. In terms of making contact, Castellanos has a strikeout rate between 20-21% in 2011 and 2012.

Replacing Kemp’s bat in the Dodgers lineup will be nearly impossible and will be a team effort. Hopefully, the Dodgers pull together and Castellanos holds on to second base for years to come.

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The Truth About the Lakers

Last night, the Lakers lost to the Thunder in the second round of the playoffs, prompting most pundits and die hard fans to proclaim that the sky is falling in Lakerland. After having a night to sleep on it, and a morning to properly digest it, there are five basic truths about the state of the Lakers.

It’s important not to overreact, but this is the Lakers and expectations are high each and every year. The deck is stacked against them, and rebuilding on the fly with a capped-out payroll, and a league bent on seeing them fail will be difficult. Here is where they stand.

1. Mike Brown Isn’t Going Anywhere. Brown signed a four-year, $18 million deal last May, so you can forget about running him out of town. Given the abbreviated season, with a host of new players and a new system, Lakers fans ought to give Brown the benefit of the doubt. Keep in mind that the decorated Phil Jackson ended his career getting swept in the second round last May. If anything, Brown should be commended for winning one more playoff game this year against a better team. If you look at the teams still alive, they share the same coaching staff and system from last year.

2. The Lakers are capped-out. The Purple and Gold have roughly $63 million committed to six players: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake, Josh McRoberts, and Christian Eyenga. Early estimates put the 2012-13 salary cap between $60-61 million. As it stands now, the Lakers already exceed next year’s cap with only six players. Add Andrew Bynum’s ($16.4 million) team option and the Lakers will be hard-pressed to sign anyone.

3. Bench Mob? More like Bench Blob. Simply put, the Lakers lackluster and ineffective bench was one reason for their demise. Losing Lamar Odom hurt the Lakers more than people know. He can create his own shot, play multiple positions, and excel in pressure situations. The same cannot be said for Troy Murphy, Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, Josh McRoberts, Devin Ebanks, and the like.

4. Twin Tower Conundrum. Formerly the second option, Gasol has transitioned to the third amigo behind Bryant and Bynum. Doing so was a gracious gesture, and nobody ever called Gasol a bad teammate. Love him or hate him, Gasol makes $19 million, had two underwhelming second-round series in a row, and has peaked as a player. There’s no denying that he’s still an All-Star caliber player that could be the final piece of a team’s championship puzzle. Unfortunately, that team probably isn’t the Lakers.

As for the frustrating Bynum, either you love him or hate him. Even though he has been in the league for seven years, the 24-year old acts like a rebellious teenager. There’s no denying that his attitude is embarrassing to Lakers fans and the organization, but what do you with him? He’s still a developing talent at a premium position, but is he the future of the franchise? He has potential galore, but is the headache worth it? The fact of the matter is, either Gasol, Bynum or both might be on their way out of L.A.

5. Amnesty International. The Lakers still have their amnesty exemption burning a hole in their pocket, and the speculation is that they will use it on MWP. They’re not going to use it on Bryant or Gasol, so the logical thinking is that MWP and the $15 million left on his contract could be cut loose. MWP was a total disaster during the first 2.5 months of the season before playing his way into shape and regaining a semblance of his former self over the past month and a half. He has the passion that Lakers fans love, but with a decline in almost every statistical category across the board in this three-year stint with the Lakers, it’s safe to say that his best years are behind him.

The season is over and the speculation has just begun. It should be a wild ride in L.A. with the rumor mill already in high-gear, so strap in, and get ready for the 2012-13 new-look Lakers.

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Three Fantasy Baseball Overachievers

We are nearly one quarter of the way through the 2012 season and like always, there are a handful of players that came out of the gates scorching. Predicting long-term player success in fantasy is always difficult, and oftentimes owners get blinded by their players hot start.

Seldom does a player, unless it’s Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp or Miguel Cabrera stay in the zone for an entire season. A lot can go wrong in 162 games, where injuries and slumps are commonplace. Here are three players who are, for whatever reason exceeding their expectations.

1. Josh Hamilton How could a former #1 overall pick and AL MVP be overachieving? No one can deny that Hamilton is in the zone right now, but if there’s one thing that we’ve learned about the Texas slugger over the years, is that he is a lock for at least one 15-day DL stint. His current line of .399/18/45 is just ridiculous. Half of the league would kill to have those numbers translate for their entire 2012 campaign. He’s on pace to smash over 70 home runs with 180 RBI – paralleling Barry Bonds monster 2001 year.

FanGraphs has crunched the numbers and projects Hamilton to finish with a .331/41/122 line, which is MVP caliber. But would you rather have Braun, Kemp, or Cabrera? Those in keeper leagues would be better served to trade Hamilton for a more durable, dependable star for the long haul while his stock is sky-high.

2. Rafael Furcal If you drafted Furcal, you are enjoying one of the best value picks in all of fantasy land. The 34 year old has played in 100 games only once since 2008, and is just a pulled hammy away from going on the shelf yet again. It seems like a clean bill of health and change of scenery have rejuvenated the shortstop to the tune of .367/2/17 with 28 runs and a .430 OBP.

There must be something in the water there in St. Louis, which makes left for dead vets vie for All-Star spots. Whatever it is, I’m not sold on Furcal playing in more than 120 games and batting over .310. In fact, FanGraphs projects Furcal to finish with a .310/8/49 line, with 81 runs and a .350 OBP. That’s still extremely useful considering the positional value Furcal represents. However, if you had an opportunity to bundel him in a trade for Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Starlin Castro, Emilio Bonafacio, or Elvis Andrus – you do it.

3. Edwin Encarnacion This could be Encarnacion’s breakout year, and his scorching-hot start has certainly helped that assertion. But hasn’t every year since 2005 supposed to have been his breakout year? Just when the fantasy world gave up on him, Encarnacion has been a revelation, slugging 13 home runs and 34 RBI in 39 games thus far. To add some perspective, Encarnacion had only 17 long balls last year in 134 games.

The Blue Jays third baseman has hit more than 20 home runs only twice since 2005, and has a history of injuries. The potential has always been there for Edwin, and at 29, he’s in his prime.  There’s a good chance that he might reach the 30 home run plateau, but I’m betting that no matter how good the numbers are at the end of the season, they won’t be as good as his current red-hot stretch. Get what you can for him now, or be stuck with a big slump or significant injury.


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