HOT STOVE GETTING STOKED

Tim McCullough, Managing Editor December 3, 2012

Last Friday was the deadline for teams to tender contracts to players they intended to re-sign for 2013 (and potentially beyond). More than 30 non-tendered players were added to the free agent pile. Some names of note include RP Brian Wilson, P Mike Pelfrey, P Jair Jurrjens, 1B Mark Reynolds, C Geovany Soto, 3B Ian Stewart, OF Nate Schierholtz, OF Ben Francisco, 3B Jack Hannahan, P Tom Gorzelanny and C Jesus Flores. The annual MLB Winter Meetings officially open Monday, December 3 in Nashville, Tennessee. Team and player representatives will meet, and traditionally, this is when the free agent and trade market begins to take shape and heat up. There will be several free agent signings and potentially a trade or two, but at the very least, the groundwork for trades and signings will take place during this weeklong marathon of meetings. In fact, the first major signing has already taken place. As expected, Mike Napoli signed a three-year, $39M deal with the Red Sox. While we wait for news of more big player signings or trades, there were already some significant transactions with major Fantasy implications involving a couple of centerfielders this past week. So without further ado, let us look, shall we?

Upton Moves Uptown to Atlanta

The Atlanta Braves out-bid the Phillies to sign centerfielder B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.25M contract to fill their most pressing need, replacing Michael Bourn. Upton has long been tagged as a player with limitless talent who has failed to live up to expectations. His professional career spans eight years, all with the Rays organization. He’s been accused of lacking focus, failing to hustle and he had numerous run confrontations with manager Joe Maddon, several that led to benchings. Over the past five seasons, he’s been fairly durable, only missing time during the season on a few short occasions. The 2012 season was his best overall effort to date; he compiled a .246/.298/.454 triple slash line with 28 HRs, 31 SBs, 78 RBI, and 79 runs scored. The move to Atlanta should boost Upton’s Fantasy value, as he will be playing in an easier division overall with more hitter-friendly ballparks and a far better lineup of players around him. There is no reason he can’t become one of the top centerfielders in Fantasy this coming season, provided his alleged work ethic issues don’t impede him. His approach at the plate will limit any growth potential as far as batting average and OBP are concerned, but he should continue to be a solid contributor in all five major offensive scoring categories. Upton has the potential to put up a 30-HR/40-plus SB season along with plenty of runs scored and RBI, the distribution of which will be determined by where he bats in the Braves lineup. Either way, Upton will be among the Top 25 outfielders in mixed leagues.

Span Now the Nationals’ Man

Denard Span could be the Nationals new leadoff hitter. Photo Credit: Keith Allison

During the past year or so, B.J. Upton, Denard Span, Dexter Fowler, Peter Bourjos and Angel Pagan are just a few of the centerfielders that have been on the Nationals radar screen as potential trade targets. Last week, the Nationals sent right-handed pitcher Alex Meyer to the Minnesota Twins for Denard Span. Power certainly is not Span’s strong suit; he has 23 HRs over the course of five seasons in the majors. During that same… um, span, he has 90 stolen bases, with a season-high 26 thefts in 2010. His overall stolen base success rate is 76 percent, and his best season was again 2010, when he was successful on 87 percent of his attempts. Span has a 91 percent career contact rate but only a .284 career batting average. This is due in part to his dependency on BABIP. While he usually maintains a decent line drive rate around 20 percent, any time that dips, his BABIP slides with it, resulting in a lower batting average. When he can get his BABIP into the .320-.350 range, his batting average soars to .290-.300. When his BABIP crashes below .300, his batting average sinks below .260. The spacious dimensions of the Nationals home field should actually help Span keep his BABIP in the upper register, and the improved Nationals lineup (easily better than the Twins) should provide him plenty of stolen base and scoring opportunities. Span will be a valuable NL-only commodity, but his lack of power and relatively low stolen base totals will limit his mixed league value to deeper leagues. If he suddenly becomes more aggressive on the base paths and it appears he will steal 30-40 bases, then he’ll be more valuable in less deep mixed leagues.

Closer Changes

There were several moves involving closers this past week that are worth a quick look. First, the Angels signed Ryan Madson to a one-year deal for $3.5M with escalators that could bring him as much as $7.5M. Madson will likely take over as the closer for the Angels, who now have some solid depth in the bullpen. Madson didn’t pitch in 2012, as he required Tommy John surgery before ever pitching for the Reds, the team that signed him last winter. While he’s never pitched in the AL before, Madson shouldn’t have too much trouble adjusting, as he has terrific stuff. Of course, that assumes he is completely healed and has rebuilt his arm strength… Upon signing Madson, the Angels turned around and sent Jordan Walden to the Braves for SP Tommy Hanson. Walden will likely slip into the setup role in front of Craig Kimbrel, and his effectiveness against left-handed batters fills a glaring need in the Braves bullpen. Hanson is a risky investment for the Angels; though, they really didn’t give up much to get him when you consider the costs associated with starting pitching these days. Hanson has had his ups and downs over the last few years, and 2012 was not a great season for him. He went 13-10 with a 4.48 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. He really struggled with his control at times (3.66 BB/9) and the long ball was a real problem (1.39 HR/9), one he hasn’t really had over his young career. If he stays healthy and the Angels pitching coach can help him with his mechanics, Hanson has loads of potential. However, he may find it difficult to adjust to the AL, and some of the less than friendly ballparks (Arlington comes to mind) might magnify his home run woes further. Hanson is a late round addition in mixed leagues and a high risk/moderate reward type in AL-only play… The Reds signed Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21M pact effectively rewarding him for the excellent 22.1 innings he gave them down the stretch in 2012. Broxton posted a 2.82 ERA with a 1.03 WHIP and a 20:3 K:BB ratio. He will be the Reds closer to start the 2013 season, and since the terrors that ruined his 2010 and 2011 seasons with the Dodgers appear to be behind him, Broxton should regain his status as one of the better closers in the NL.

Odds and Ends

Adam LaRoche is trying to coax a three-year deal out of the Nationals, who would prefer to sign him to a two-year contract. Meanwhile, the Orioles have expressed an interest in LaRoche after non-tendering the Sultan of Strikeout, Mark Reynolds. The Rangers have also been connected to LaRoche… The Diamondbacks are looking at third base options but are probably not going to be in on Kevin Youkilis. Jeff Keppinger is on their radar and so is Jhonny Peralta… Speaking of Youkilis, there are numerous teams with a need at the hot corner and Youkilis is the best option in a very thin free agent class at the position. The Dodgers seem to be in on everyone this winter, but third base is one of their biggest holes, so don’t be surprised if he ends up there. Other possible destinations are the Phillies, Orioles and White Sox. I wouldn’t rule out a return to the Red Sox as a first baseman either… The Kansas City Royals are reportedly shopping OF prospect Wil Myers, looking for a top starting pitcher in return. KC has spoken with the Red Sox about John Lester, but while GM Ben Cherington wouldn’t rule out such a deal, he made it clear that subtracting a starter from the team doesn’t make much sense in the current market. The Tampa Bay Rays would seem like a better fit for Myers, especially with Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and James Shields all on the market… The Reds signing of Jonathan Broxton to close out games means that Aroldis Chapman is likely going to be stretched out as a starter next spring… The Mets commitment to David Wright almost certainly means that R.A. Dickey will be traded this winter. The prevailing rumor is that a two-year deal between the parties was hammered out early in November, but since the Mets haven’t penned the deal, they must be waiting to see what kind of trade offers the winter meetings bring. Given the dearth of pitching and the Mets money woes, Dickey is a goner. Look for the Rangers, Royals or Dodgers to send a package of prospects to NY for the knuckleballer.

Sources:

Fangraphs.com

Baseball_Reference.com

Twitter

Tim McCullough is the Assistant Editor for RotoExperts.com. Questions, comments and requests are welcome. Contact Tim at tim.m@rotoexperts.com

Follow me on Twitter @ TimM_RotoExpert

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