- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 9, 2004

Please tell me you haven’t cut him — or worse, traded him for Cesar Izturis or Tony Womack. I’m talking to you, Derek Jeter owners. Don’t do something Foolish.

The early returns certainly don’t look or sound good, and if he were, say, running for the Democratic Party nomination, Jeter would have dropped out sooner than you could say “Bob Graham.”

But that’s the beauty of fantasy sports (as opposed to politics, which, come to think of it, might make a decent fantasy game; the Fool has made a mental note). If your all-world shortstop is off to a slow start, simply grab the “next hot thing” while stashing Jeter on your bench. And at the end of the season, when Jeter’s back on track, you will be sitting pretty.

That 0-for-32 streak was real, as was Jeter’s .161 batting average as of April28. But look at the pedigree, look at the name, look at the uniform (and I would say look at that name on the back of it, but, hey, this is the New York Yankees we’re talking about). In this case, all of that matters. While the Fool maintains Jeter is not the player he was three seasons ago, he’s nothing close to the stumblebum wearing No.2 for the Yankees in April.

So take that finger off the trigger. Unless another team overwhelms you — and in this case, that means getting back two players, one of whom is a shortstop legitimately better than Jeter — wait this slump out. Already this month, Jeter has stolen a base and had a three-hit game, and his average is creeping toward .200.

Meanwhile, you already should have been able to scour the waiver wire for shortstop scraps who have proved more than serviceable. In two different leagues, the Fool snagged the White Sox’s Juan Uribe, San Diego’s Mark Loretta and the Cardinals’ Womack to compensate for slow starts by Angel Berroa and Orlando Cabrera. Pittsburgh’s Jack Wilson and even the Dodgers’ Izturis have gotten off to decent starts, as has Tampa Bay’s Julio Lugo. Chances are more than a couple of these went undrafted in your league.

What you must remember as a fantasy owner is not to take the slow starts by stars like Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Vernon Wells personally. You’re not George Steinbrenner; you can’t send the players messages. And if you still have them on your roster, the damage to your points has been done, and you won’t likely get a fair trade.

Case in point: The Fool took A-Rod with the top pick in an American League-only draft, a no-brainer considering Rodriguez , now a third baseman, still carries shortstop eligibility in most leagues. The Yankees star got off to horrible start, overshadowed only by Jeter’s.

And with a fantasy squad mired in last place, the Fool almost pulled the trigger on a deal that would have brought in Jody Gerut, Michael Young (how ironic!), Gil Meche and Jeremy Affeldt for A-Rod and Desi Relaford.

That offer arrived in my e-mail inbox April27. Since then, Rodriguez has hit three home runs, knocked in seven runs and walked in six consecutive games. Oh, and he’s hit safely in 15 of his last 17 games while raising his average to .265 through Friday.

Lesson learned: Bench your stars, find cheap replacements and wait.

Rash of rookies

Last month’s NFL Draft delivered more impact fantasy football rookies than we’ve had in years.

A quick glance shows we probably will have three new starting running backs to choose from: Kevin Jones in Detroit, Tatum Bell in Denver and Julius Jones in Dallas. Steven Jackson certainly will be worth a late-round flier in St. Louis, where he will back up increasingly brittle Marshall Faulk.

Three of the four quarterbacks selected in the first round at least are worth stashing if you have a deep keeper league: New York’s Eli Manning, San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger.

The crop of receivers should feature a few impact players, most notably among the first four taken in the draft: Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, Detroit’s Roy Williams, Buffalo’s Lee Evans and Jacksonville’s Reggie Williams.

And late in the first round, San Francisco stole Oklahoma State’s Rashaun Woods. His numbers could be as good as those for any of the early picks.

And finally, circle this name: Ben Troupe, whom Tennessee selected in the second round. Kellen Winslow got a lot of hype, as a No.5 pick should.

But Troupe, a former Florida star, heads to an offense that for years featured tight end Frank Wychek as the top pass-catching option. Troupe should slide right in and put up numbers as good, if not better, than those put up by the Giants’ Jeremy Shockey.

Do you have questions, comments or insights for the Fantasy Fool? If so, e-mail John Taylor at thefool@rotogods.com.

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