Good for Dusty Baker and the Cincinnati Reds. A season after foolishly giving Corey Patterson more than half the team's at-bats in center field, fellow overrated speedster Willy Taveras has been given a two-year contract. While Patterson was truly awful in 2008, Taveras is in theory a mild upgrade. But if you were hoping Jay Bruce was going to knock in 120 runs ... well, it won't happen now.
Taveras is actually a fine fantasy asset because he steals so many bases; he swiped a majors-leading 68 bases in 2008 and stole 33 or 34 bases in each of the prior three seasons. The guy is fast. Of course, he can't steal first base, which continues to be a problem that will eventually, maybe even during the term of this relatively cost-effective two-year deal, force him to fourth outfielder status. Taveras has a career .331 on-base percentage, which is not good for anyone, let alone a leadoff hitter. Taveras had a .308 OBP in 2008, which certainly didn't aid Matt Holliday's RBI totals, and despite playing in Colorado, his slugging percentage was an incomprehensible .296. This is not a great baseball player.
The Reds, however, probably see the stolen bases and defense -- he can fly out there in center field -- and think he's a prototypical leadoff hitter. The Reds were 16th in the majors in stolen bases in 2008, which Taveras could improve by himself, but this isn't a sign that the team will run more than others do. Many leadoff hitters these days actually do get on base, but Taveras isn't one of them. He could steal 60 bases, so from a fantasy perspective, he is a good value after the top 50 if you've got your share of power hitters in the outfield. He does hit for a decent batting average, thanks in part to bunting for hits seemingly half the time. So what? The hits count, don't they? Just don't expect a lick of power or even the runs scored expected from a leadoff hitter. Taveras has never scored more than 83 runs in a season, and there's little reason to expect that will change in 2009. Oh, did we mention he's missed 92 games the past two seasons?
For Bruce, Joey Votto and others in the middle of the Cincy batting order, this shouldn't be the difference between making them keepers or not. They just won't be able to knock in as many runs, unless Taveras can recapture the .320 batting average and .367 OBP from Colorado's World Series season. Even then, however, Taveras wasn't a great player.
The Reds could have done so much better in their bid to upgrade Patterson, Ryan Freel and a host of others who posted a cumulative .299 OBP and .700 OPS this past season for a new center fielder who can lead off. They chose the fella who led the bigs in stolen bases. Fantasy owners who don't mind drafting one-category helpers will want to snatch up Taveras in the top 100. Just don't do it if your league counts on-base percentage or OPS.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.