In devising a handle for this new column, exclusively for Mastersball platinum subscribers, I wanted something old with a twist of fantasy reality added. "Articles" is self-explanatory, while "Configuration" points to the importance of roster construction in fantasy success. Together, they offer a desired nod to history.
With my first deadline approaching and no firm idea for a subject, the baseball gods came to my rescue on Friday afternoon. As most everyone probably knows by now, the reeling Chicago Cubs had a blowup between teammates in the dugout after a dreadful first inning against the crosstown rival White Sox.
Well-known powder keg Carlos Zambrano lit into first baseman Derrek Lee, by all reports a highly-respected and workman-like performer, a team leader. Among the peacemakers was one of baseball's shortest-fused managers, Lou Piniella. The cherry on top was Big Z heaping obscenities at cameramen on his way out of Wrigley Field.
Certainly frustration with the Cubs' continued losing ways is causing tempers to be hotter than usual, but there is more to it than that.
While character is not a field in draft software spreadsheet formulas, it should be a consideration for the smart fantasy owner.
Just as you are wise to stay away from paying premium prices for a frequently-injured player or one in his career decline phase, so should you consider avoiding that small subset of MLB players who could due to their behavior put themselves out of action or at least crater their productivity.
Especially when multiple players in this category are found on the same roster, it can affect the whole chemistry of the team and have a potential negative effect on others not normally considered at risk, such as Lee.
In the heat of battle, anyone could erupt and have an incident for which they are later embarrassed, but when there are multiple occurrences, a pattern emerges that isn't likely to change.
Zambrano's intense personality has caused many skirmishes with foes and friends alike. They include many opposing batsmen hit under questionable circumstances and a well-publicized multi-round battle against former batterymate Michael Barrett that began in the dugout and continued into the clubhouse back in 2007.
Local press wags called the Barrett skirmish, occurring on the heels of a five-game losing skid, "The slugout in the dugout." The catcher ended up in the hospital with a fat lip as Zambrano "celebrated" his 26th birthday.
While the 2007 Cubs righted their ship enough to win 85 games and take a weak National League Central Division, Barrett wasn't around to pop the champagne. The catcher was more expendable that the star Zambrano and was dealt to San Diego within the same month of the fight.
The Cubs are stuck with Big Z, who is in the midst of a five-year $91.5 million extension granted him less than 90 days after he pummeled his teammate in front of fans and television cameras alike. Zambrano will make just short of $18 million both this season and next and exactly that amount in 2012.
Zambrano's fantasy owners are also stuck with an underperformer who was previously banished to the bullpen and has delivered all of three wins and an ERA over five this season. A suspension, potentially considerable in length, has to be coming.
The man behind the very questionable contract, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, has amazingly managed to keep his job despite a long series of disastrous triple-digit deals lavished on free agents who didn't deliver their money's worth. His big signing prior to the 2009 season was none other than Milton Bradley, easily the current major league player with the longest rap sheet of bad behavior on and off the field. Bradley's misdeeds go all the way back to his minor league career, where his suspensions included spitting on an umpire.
Amazingly, there were no reported incidents between Bradley and Zambrano during their season together, but of course, Piniella and Bradley did clash.
Hendry may have bought himself another year or two by actually getting rid of Bradley during this past winter without having to eat the entire two years remaining on the troubled outfielder's contract. The fact Hendry lucked into a revitalized Carlos Silva in return, albeit with a bloated contract himself, was a significant bonus.
Consider that Bradley has also missed time this season due to further emotional issues. Maybe there is a connection to his .207 batting average and .645 OPS and maybe there isn't, but why would a savvy fantasy owner go there at all?
Seattle's general manager Jack Zduriencik, the man who actually took Bradley off Hendry's hands when it looked like no one else would, had been anointed by some observers as baseball's next wunderkind during the off-season. Clearly the 2010 Mariners have more extensive offensive problems than Bradley alone, but Jack Z is solely responsible for putting the wildly-underperforming, last-place Seattle roster together.
Coming into this season, as I constructed my teams, I stayed far away from Bradley and Zambrano. Sure, declining skills was a factor, but their troubled pasts were, too.
Further, I didn't go out of my way to select any of their teammates, either. Not a single Cub could be found on my active National League Tout Wars squad this entire season. That doesn't mean I would pass up a bargain. I did pick up Seattle starter Cliff Lee in the mid rounds of my NFBC draft, but that is it.
Even if lightning strikes twice and Hendry can find a taker for Zambrano, will Big Z change his stripes? About as likely as Bradley, I imagine.
For me, chemistry is real.
Brian Walton is the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league's 12-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC last season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com.