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Don't be so quick to assume Jason Marquis is a lock for the Braves' fifth starter job this spring. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, manager Bobby Cox has declared the competition "wide open" to claim the final spot in the rotation for 2003.
Horacio Ramirez, who will start the exhibition opener on Friday, Andy Pratt, Jung Bong and Trey Hodges will all get a chance to win the coveted role. In seasons past, such current stars as Odalis Perez, Kevin Millwood, Paul Byrd and Jason Schmidt have occupied the fifth starter job for Atlanta, proving that the back end of a strong rotation often develops Fantasy superstars.
Marquis began spring training slightly behind the competition due to soreness in his shoulder in November which delayed his winter throwing program. He has been throwing a few bullpen sessions without pain, but the possibility remains that he'll miss some time due to injury, opening the door for one of the youngsters to step in.
While this situation bears watching throughout the exhibition season, keep in mind the Braves generally keep their top four starters on four days' rest, meaning the fifth starter occasionally gets skipped in the rotation. Their top three starters have topped 33 starts apiece in each of the past four seasons, and since the strike-delayed 1995 season, only twice have five Braves starters topped 20 starts in a year.
Ramirez and Hodges are the favorites to win the job if Marquis struggles in the spring, and each is worth a $1 flier in NL-only leagues, and possibly a few dollars more if either asserts himself in the competition in the coming weeks. Marquis, however, drops to around $3 based on the risk involved. He'd get a boost to around $5-$7 if he proves his health and looks strong once the exhibition schedule begins.