The long regular season ended more than a month ago and most Fantasy managers around the globe set aside their teams for the long, cold winter ahead. Hot Stove season is here, a time when MLB team rosters are restocked, reshaped and tweaked for the next season of play. Oddly enough, most Fantasy managers prefer to ignore the endless speculation that accompanies baseball’s silly season. But I’m here to tell you that the most successful Fantasy players are the ones who closely monitor player movement all through the winter months. Every aspect of a free agent’s performance next season hinges on the team they end up signing with, and trades can shift the balance of power across multiple teams and have a domino effect on every roster of the participating parties. For example, let’s take a brief look at the signing of Maicer Izturis by the Toronto Blue Jays.
For the past seven seasons Izturis had plied his trade for the LA Angels as a super-utility infielder. He doesn’t hit for power (34 career HRs), but
he’s very good in the clutch (career .300 BA with RISP) and he’s an efficient base stealer (career 76 percent SB success rate) Angels manager Mike Scioscia did his best to find at-bats for Izturis through the years, but injuries kept him off the field nearly every season, making him unreliable as a starter. When he did play, the switch-hitting Izturis put up a career .273/.337/.381 triple slash line, which coupled with serviceable but unspectacular defense makes him a below-average to average middle infielder. Fantasy-wise he’s never been more than an injury replacement type of player in mixed league play and his lack of a full-time job rendered him little more than bench depth in mono-leagues.
Now that Izturis is a member of the Blue Jays, that could all change in 2013. Toronto awarded him with a three-year $9M contract, the first multi-year deal ever given a free agent by GM Alex Anthopoulos. He’ll get an opportunity to compete for the starting second base job with rookie Adeiny Hechavarria. While Izturis is no lock to get the gig, Hechavarria is still a work in progress and may not be ready for the majors yet at age 23. If Izturis wins the full-time job at second his Fantasy value will soar, especially if he bats in the top third of the Blue Jays lineup. Of course, there is still a long winter ahead and the Blue Jays could add another second baseman via trade, which would relegate Izturis back into a utility role. Time will tell, so it’s useless to speculate on his value right now.
As for the Angels, they’ve lost a versatile cog and a player that could give three other position players a break when needed, or replace them altogether in the event of an injury. It’s not clear whether they will seek to replace Izturis given the team’s other needs. So guys like Albert Callaspo and Erick Aybar could become more valuable Fantasy commodities next season if they are called upon to play 150-plus games. Or we could see some Angels farm hand arrive to displace one of them in a starting role and perhaps bump them into Izturis’ utility job. Luis Jimenez batted .309, smashed 16 HRs and drove in 85 over 122 games for the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees, the Angels Pacific Coast League affiliate. He could easily take over at third base and move Callaspo into a utility role. Again, it’s all just part of silly season speculation but it is worth watching, as it just may be necessary to know about it when Fantasy draft day roles around in the spring.
Odds and Ends
Who is the most sought after free agent outfielder to date? If you said Josh Hamilton you’d be wrong. There have been several reports that Nick Swisher has drawn interest from at least six teams, including the Red Sox, Phillies, Orioles, Mariners and Rangers. The Orioles are said to be going hard after Swisher, who hits very well in Camden Yards (.254 with 18 HRs in 54 games). If the Red Sox lose out on Cody Ross, then Swisher and his .286 career average at Fenway Park would make sense, especially given his ability to play first base… Speaking of Josh Hamilton – he’s let it be known that he is seeking a seven-year $175M deal. I could be wrong, but I seriously doubt any team will give him more than three years. He’s more than earned $25M per year, but does he really believe that teams will simply dismiss his substance abuse history and ignore the fact that he disappeared on the Rangers down the stretch this past season? It’s also worth noting that he’s only played a full season of games twice in his six major league seasons with two seasons in which he played less than 100 games. Since he’s approaching age 32 next season, the risk of declining production and injury shortened campaigns only gets worse. The Phillies, Red Sox, Orioles, Mariners, Dodgers (if they trade Andre Ethier) and Brewers are all kicking the tires on Hamilton. Don’t be surprised if he ends up in Milwaukee, but I think the Pittsburgh Pirates will get in as a dark horse late bidder… Now that the Red Sox have signed catcher David Ross to a two-year deal, there is speculation that either Ryan Lavarnway or Jarrod Saltalamacchiaare being shopped. Salty makes much more sense as trade bait since the Red Sox seem to be the only organization with faith in Lavarnway’s defensive catching skills. Remember, Salty was brought in by former GM Theo Epstein, and his replacement, Ben Cherington is doing everything he can to wipe the slate clean after the failures of the last two seasons. Salty is as good as gone – bank on it.
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