Originally created 04/10/03

Fantasy Baseball: Owners look to options as injury bug makes rounds



It started with a thud, shortly followed by a resounding pop and then a collective cringe - the beginning to the 2003 regular season injury chronicle.

The thud was the sound made by Toronto catcher Ken Huckaby after he sailed through the air to tag Derek Jeter and his body landed on the New York Yankees' prized shortstop.

The pop represented the dislocation of Jeter's left shoulder, and the cringe was the sickening feeling coming from the guts of Jeter owners, most of whom used a valuable early-round pick or high-dollar bid to draft him.

The injury bug had more in store for the first week of the season. It found Cincinnati Reds' center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. diving for a ball at Wrigley Field.

Griffey's diagnosis - a dislocated right shoulder.

Despite their similar injuries, the situations now faced by the two stars and their fantasy owners can be starkly contrasted.

Jeter, 27, has averaged 617 at-bats over the past three years and is battling the first major injury of his career. Griffey, 33, was once a fantasy stalwart, but has averaged just 361 at-bats over the same period, due to various ailments, such as a torn hamstring, a torn knee tendon and now this.

Watching games from the sidelines is nothing new to Griffey, and his owners should not be surprised at his latest breakdown.

In fact, when Griffey broke his wrist by slipping in the shower in 1989, costing him American League Rookie of the Year honors, it should have been a sign of things to come for him. But he had to go and post Hall of Fame numbers over the next 10 years and fool us all.

For fantasy owners of either player, these setbacks will be the first test of the young season. They must choose from a variety of options in replacing them.

Do you go with Griffey or Jeter's real replacement? That would be Erick Almonte for the Yankees (1 HR, 6 RBI, .350) and Reggie Taylor for the Reds (.300), both just marginal prospects. The alternative would be to pick up the hottest free agent or use someone from your own reserves.

Whatever option is selected, the bottom line is no matter how often they get injured, Griffey and Jeter are both prime players who are relied upon heavily by their teams to produce. Hustling is part of the game, and if it means sacrificing their bodies, then that is what they will do.

That's reality - not fantasy.

WHO'S HOT: DH Erubiel Durazo, Oakland - Now out of the shadows of Arizona, where he platooned with Mark Grace at first base, Durazo (2-11-.450) has taken a liking to both his new setting in Oakland as the designated hitter and to American League pitchers.

WHO'S NOT: 3B Jeff Cirillo, Seattle - Cirillo (1-for-22, 0 RBI) has declined steadily since 2000, when he hit .326 with 115 RBI.

Reach Lane Kramer at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106.