I wouldn't say Seattle Mariners third baseman Jose Lopez was the most unlikely player to have a three-home run game this week, because let's face it, there are quite a few players not named Jose Bautista who are struggling to hit for power. But Lopez, who pulled off this feat Wednesday by swatting a trio of baseballs over the fence at Toronto's homer happy Rogers Centre, was certainly not likely to do so, not after hitting seven home runs in the first five and a half months.
Entering Wednesday, Lopez ranked 150th out of 151 qualified hitters in OPS this season, with only Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cesar Izturis performing worse. Frankly, it's stunning the Mariners would bat Lopez (with a .319 percentage), third in the order, but on Wednesday, it worked. Lopez has had an awful season and is certainly likely to be forgotten in 2011 fantasy drafts, but we should also remember he hit 25 home runs and knocked in 96 runs in 2009. However, I'm going to overlook Lopez not merely for the serious drop in production.
As a second baseman, I would totally take the chance on Lopez bouncing back next season. But as a third baseman, I feel different. There's the rub: Lopez lost his second base eligibility this season because he and Chone Figgins -- who also a bad year, like most of the Mariners -- switched infield spots. At the hot corner, however, it's not worth it. There are many third basemen worth drafting, and relatively safe options like Casey Blake are generally sitting around in April as free agents. Middle infielders with pop just look different. Lopez hasn't played a game at second base, isn't likely to, and he'd need 20 games played to become eligible for most leagues in 2011, which isn't going to happen.
Lopez isn't the only player who either lost eligibility this season or figures to. As you consider keeper decisions, let's investigate some others.
Adam Lind, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: He was going to drop in drafts anyway since he's hitting .236, 69 points down from his breakout 2009 campaign, but while I think he can bounce back to 35 home runs again, he won't be doing so with outfield eligibility, at least initially. Lind has played 15 games in the outfield, 11 at first base. He's likely to end up designated hitter-only, and as such, he probably doesn't make my top 75. Other hitters who are likely not eligible to be drafted as outfielders (and only in the designated hitter or utility slot) next season are Vladimir Guerrero, Jack Cust and Hideki Matsui, who is at 17 games played now. Only three more games, Mike Scioscia!
Ian Stewart, 2B/3B, Colorado Rockies: Stewart still has intriguing power, as he's at 18 home runs, with only a late disabled-list stint potentially stopping him from reaching 25 home runs again. The reason Stewart's value drops is that he played 21 games at second base in 2009, but none this season. That's the difference in a potential top-100 player and someone who likely slips to at least round 15. Stewart is 25, short of his power prime, but hey, 35 dingers at third base are worth something, too. In a similar vein, Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee is my middle infielder in a number of leagues because he played 22 games at second base in 2009. As with Stewart, next year we won't be so lucky, and McGehee probably will be overrated. Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco also loses second base eligibility, but a potential batting title at third base still matters.
Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, Boston Red Sox: First base is so crazy deep in fantasy, and will be again, that it does kind of matter that Youkilis will lose his third base eligibility for next season. Whereas I ranked him in the overall top 30 for this season, that's unlikely in 2011 as he competes with a deep pool of first basemen. Blame Adrian Beltre. Gordon Beckham had a terrible season, and we'd rather he play second base anyway, but multi-eligibility for him was nice. No more third base. No more third base for Houston Astros future slugger Brett Wallace as well. At first base, he's a lot more ordinary. No more first base, incidentally, for Mark Reynolds and Pablo Sandoval, though they've got bigger problems in the fantasy baseball world than that.