WTNYNovember 18, 2003
Central OPS
By Bryan Smith

Big transaction news- Texas signs Andy Fox- Well, Buck Showalter signs another old friend, as Fox signs a minor league contract with the Rangers. While three of his eight seasons in the Majors have seen him hit below .200 (two out of his last three), Fox was relatively useful in 2002. He stole 31 bases in 38 tries, although his OPS didn't near .700. He plays almost every position on the diamond, although his defense is subpar. Not even worthy of the money spent on a minor league deal in my book.

Also, the Astros signed Jose Vizcaino to an insane $1.2M contract, as Gerry Hunsicker continues to be vastly overrated. I mean, Drayton McLane must have been hoping Hunsicker would go to New York so Purpura could finally take over. $1.2 to Vizcaino? Insane. Save it for the starting.

As these weeks in baseball are really slow, I need some help. While giving you statistics to indicate 2004 success is interesting to you, some of it isn't as exciting as other stuff. If you have any suggestions or ideas for articles you'd like to see, drop me an e-mail at bryball@hotmail.com. I appreciate it.

Anyway, I move on today to the NL Central, looking at OPS numbers from 2001-2003 for almost 40 players. It may suprise you who is on the decline...

Chicago Cubs
Damian Miller- 761, 774, 679- No trends, but expect nothing more than .700
Eric Karros- 691, 722, 786- Up three straight, and probably could top .800
Randall Simon- 786, 779, 743- Down three straight as pitchers are figuring him out
Mark Grudzilanek- 710, 665, 782- Big 2003 after paltry past years. .720-.760
Alex Gonzalez- 691, 737, 704- Nothing indicative, but will sit around .700
Aramis Ramirez- 886, 666, 789- Will be somewhere between .789-.886
Moises Alou- 950, 756, 819- Rebounded nicely in 2003, but will be .800 in 2004
Kenny Lofton- 720, 764, 802- Three up, but can't be much past .800
Corey Patterson- 602, 676, 840- Three up, but 2003 number isn't telling enough
Sammy Sosa- 1174, 993, 911- Three down, but Sosa won't dip below .900

Cincinnati Reds
Jason LaRue- 707, 729, 743- Three Up, and LaRue is becoming a .750-type
Sean Casey- 827, 696, 758- Another .750 type player
Adam Dunn- 949, 854, 819- Three down, but look for bounce back in 2004

Houston Astros
Brad Ausmus- 625, 675, 594- Terrible, will be lower than .625 next year
Jeff Bagwell- 965, 919, 897- Three down, but will loom around .900 still
Jeff Kent- 876, 933, 860- Should be posting bigger numbers next season
Lance Berkman- 1050, 983, 927- Three down, and may put up .900 in 2004
Craig Biggio- 837, 734, 762- Still has a couple .750 seasons in him
Richard Hidalgo- 811, 734, 957- Who is the real Richard Hidalgo?

St. Louis Cardinals
Mike Matheny- 580, 630, 676- Three up, whew, may top .680 next year
Tino Martinez- 830, 775, 781- Still can hang around .775
Fernando Vina- 775, 671, 691- Won't hit .700 again in his career
Edgar Renteria- 685, 803, 874- Three up, and I can see a .900 in '04
Scott Rolen- 876, 860, 910- Right around .875-.900
Albert Pujols- 1013, 955, 1106- Has lots of support, and I can see more 1.000
Jim Edmonds- 974, 981, 1002- Three up, but reached his top in 2003
J.D. Drew- 1027, 778, 886- Needs 500 healthy at-bats, could hit .900

Pittsburgh Pirates
Jason Kendall- 693, 706, 815- Three up, and possibly reverting to old Kendall
Matt Stairs- 820, 827, 950- Three up, but .950 is too high to top
Reggie Sanders- 886, 779, 912- Getting old, and should be closer to .850
Jack Wilson- 550, 638, 656- Three up and may even hit .660 one season!

Milwaukee Brewers
Richie Sexson- 889, 867, 927- Pretty consistent, right around .900
Royce Clayton- 708, 660, 634- Dipping and could be sub-.600 in '04
Geoff Jenkins- 808, 764, 913- Like Drew, could use a full season of health
John Vander Wal- 806, 756, 818- Can hit .800 off the bench each season

Once again, those with three straight seasons with climbing OPS numbers:

Eric Karros- 1B- Free Agent
Kenny Lofton- CF- Free Agent
Corey Patterson- CF- Cubs
Jason LaRue- C- Reds
Mike Matheny- C- Cardinals
Edgar Renteria- SS- Cardinals
Jim Edmonds- CF- Cardinals
Jason Kendall- C- Pirates
Matt Stairs- OF/1B- Free Agent
Jack Wilson- SS- Pirates

To fantasy owners, only Karros, Patterson, LaRue, Renteria, and Kendall matter from that group. And even Karros likely won't, as I don't see him reaching 500AB again during his career. But Patterson could be a late-round steal, LaRue can be a last round pick to be your catcher, Renteria is about to become the "5th shortstop," and Kendall may be a top-five catcher next season.

Those players to watch out for, as they've had declining OPS stats:

Randall Simon- 1B- Cubs/FA
Sammy Sosa- OF- Cubs
Adam Dunn- OF- Reds
Jeff Bagwell- 1B- Astros
Lance Berkman- OF- Astros
Royce Clayton- SS- Free Agent

I would stay away from all these players save Dunn, as there will likely be better options available than Sosa, Bagwell, and Berkman when they are chosen in any fantasy draft. Write that down, and e-mail me if you have any suggestions.