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Baseball preview: Shortstops

When the Orioles traded shortstop Miguel Tejada to the Houston Astros in December, baseball fans in both cities weren't the only ones breaking down the effects of the trade. Fantasy owners also analyzed the move and looked at how it would affect their rosters for the upcoming season.

The deal has several consequences from a fantasy perspective. First, the 11-year veteran jumps to the National League for the first time in his career. Therefore, owners in NL-only leagues will be able to add the former AL MVP to their roster. Also, the level of talent at the position in AL-only leagues drops substantially with the absence of Tejada.

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Before picking up Tejada, fantasy owners will also need to contemplate how well he'll adjust to the pitching in the NL, as well as how he'll hit in Houston's Minute Maid Park.

Last season, Tejada hit .321 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but he only hit .268 in road games. Twelve of the 18 home runs Tejada hit last season came at home. And despite the fact that he played only three fewer road games (65) than home games (68), Tejada had almost twice as many RBIs at home (53) than on the road (28).

Compared to Oriole Park (333 ft. down the line), it is very short to left field (only 315 ft. down the line) at Minute Maid Park. As a result, balls that are caught on the warning track in Oriole Park become home runs in Houston. And don't forget that he won the Home Run Derby at that ballpark in 2004.

One final thing to remember about Tejada this year is that he could be distracted by two off-the-field events. First, his brother was killed in a motorcycle accident in the Dominican Republic a few weeks ago. Second, he potentially could be dealing with the Justice Department and the FBI during the upcoming season.

Even before Tejada was sent to Houston, the level of shortstops in the National League was better than the American League. The NL East has the top three shortstops in the major leagues. Only Derek Jeter comes close to reaching the fantasy value of the top five NL shortstops.

Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez all possess the proper balance of speed and power that easily makes them the three most valuable shortstops in the majors.

Which one is the best? Well, that question is open for debate. I'm sure there will be plenty of objections, but I went with the following rankings because that's how I am going to draft. Rollins, Reyes and Ramirez could all be the first shortstop taken in your draft. All three of them will put up excellent numbers again this season.

1. Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies – I'm going with the reigning NL MVP as the top overall shortstop. Last season, Rollins had a .296 batting average, 30 home runs, 94 RBIs and 41 stolen bases from the leadoff spot for the Phillies. He also led the NL in triples (20) and runs scored (139). It will be hard to duplicate those numbers this season, but I think he's worth the gamble.

2. Jose Reyes, New York Mets – Reyes has 202 stolen bases in the past three seasons, including 78 last season. His career batting average is .284, but there's always hope that he'll hit .300. Reyes hit 19 home runs in 2006, but only hit 12 last year. I'd expect him to hit between 10-15 home runs this season. If you draft Reyes, then you're drafting him for the stolen bases and not the home runs.

3. Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins – After winning the NL Rookie of the Year in 2006 by hitting .292 with 17 home runs and 59 RBIs, Ramirez improved in all three major stat categories last season. He hit .332 with 29 home runs and 81 RBIs. Ramirez also had 51 stolen bases in each season. Can he improve again this season? If he does, then he'll be the best shortstop. I'd expect him to hit around .320 with 20-25 home runs, 50-55 stolen bases and 70-75 RBIs.

4. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies – A .291 batting average, 24 home runs and 99 RBIs in his rookie season would make you think Tulowitzki is going to have a successful career in the major leagues. Is he the real deal? It's hard to tell, but if he can come close to those numbers again this season, then he's worthy of being one of the top shortstops drafted.

5. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees – A player with a .317 career batting average in 13 major-league seasons will always help your fantasy team. Jeter is hard to read because he is capable of stealing 30 bases, but could also barely reach double-digits in the category. He had 34 stolen bases in 2006, but he only had 15 last season. He'll likely only hit 10-15 home runs, which makes him less valuable than the shortstops ahead of him.

6. Miguel Tejada, Houston Astros – As I stated above, Tejada's situation this season is extremely complicated. I'd like to think that he's capable of having a .320 batting average, 30 home runs and 110 RBIs in Houston. However, I think it's more realistic that he'll hit .300 with 20-25 home runs and 90-100 RBIs. At the end of the season, it'll be interesting to see if Astros fans think the Tejada deal was worth the players they traded to the Orioles.

7. Michael Young, Texas Rangers – Over the past three seasons, Young went from being a legitimate power threat (22 home runs in 2004 and 24 in 2005) to a pure contact hitter. His batting average will be at least .315, but he won't hit more than 10 home runs. However, Young still hits a lot of doubles and still drives in runs. He'll get your team at least 90 RBIs if you draft him.

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8. J.J. Hardy, Milwaukee Brewers – Hardy emerged last season with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs. He never hit more than 12 home runs in a season in the minor leagues, so it's doubtful that he'll hit that many home runs again this year. I think 15-20 home runs is a more realistic expectation. He doesn't steal a lot of bases, so he'll only be an average shortstop if he can't hit home runs like last season.

9. Edgar Renteria, Detroit Tigers – Renteria had a .332 batting average with 12 home runs and 57 RBIs last season in Atlanta. This season, he'll likely be closer to his .291 career average. I'd expect him to hit between 10-15 home runs and 55-65 RBIs. Since there are a lot of good hitters in Detroit, there's a chance that he'll score 100 runs.

10. Khalil Greene, San Diego Padres – If Greene could somehow hit at least .270, then he'd be one of the top options at shortstop. Unfortunately, he has a .254 career batting average. Greene had 27 home runs and 97 RBIs last season, so he's proven he can hit for power. I'd expect him to have 20-25 home runs and 90-100 RBIs. Hopefully he can get the batting average above .270 if you draft him.

And the best of the rest…

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11. Orlando Cabrera, Chicago White Sox

12. Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland Indians

13. Rafael Furcal, Los Angeles Dodgers

14. Yuniesky Betancourt, Seattle Mariners

15. Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks

16. Yunel Escobar, Atlanta Braves

17. Jack Wilson, Pittsburgh Pirates

18. Erick Aybar, Los Angeles Angels

19. Jason Bartlett, Tampa Bay Rays

20. Bobby Crosby, Oakland Athletics

21. David Eckstein, Toronto Blue Jays

22. Ryan Theriot, Chicago Cubs

23. Julio Lugo, Boston Red Sox

24. Alex Gonzalez, Cincinnati Reds

25. Tony Pena, Kansas City Royals

Player to watch: Omar Vizquel, San Francisco Giants – Vizquel is nowhere near the player that he used to be, but he's worth watching early in the season. He has a .298 career batting average in July, so keep that in mind if you're shortstop gets hurt and you need a short-term replacement in the middle of the season.

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