THE LATEST HOT STOVE FANTASY INSIGHTS

Tim McCullough, Managing Editor December 10, 2012

A Big Domino Falls

There were more than a dozen deals hatched during the four days of the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, which came to a close last Thursday. However, several of the marquee players on the free agent market had yet to sign a new contract. The first big domino fell over the weekend, though, as Zack Greinke reportedly agreed to a six-year deal for $147M with the LA Dodgers, who were the odds on favorites to sign him all along.

We only have about a season and a half of pitch data on Greinke in the NL compared with about seven and a half years in the AL, but it’s pretty clear that he’s been a better pitcher on the Senior Circuit. Greinke’s ERA numbers are comparable (3.80 AL vs. 3.67 NL), but his strikeout rate is far better in the NL (9.9 K/9 NL vs. 7.6 K/9 AL). As you might imagine, his strikeout to walk ratio is also better in the NL (4.42) compared to his AL mark (3.30). He also boasts a slightly lower hit rate (H/9) and home run rate (HR/9) in the National League. Factor in that he’ll be pitching in the NL West, which features several pitcher-friendly parks, and it is very likely that Grienke’s Fantasy value gets a boost in 2013 and beyond.

So it appears that for the next six years, encompassing Greinke’s age 29 through 35 seasons, we’ll be treated to at least a few runs at a Cy Young award. The only thing that may derail Grienke from pitching’s highest achievement is the fact that he’s already thrown nearly 1,500 MLB innings, including almost 670 of them before his 25th birthday. Thankfully, he has no history of arm or shoulder problems beyond a brief bout of shoulder inflammation in 2010, but all those early innings could come back to haunt Greinke at some point over the next six years. However, until we see some evidence of decline, such as a loss of velocity on his pitches, Fantasy players in all formats should view Greinke as one of the top pitchers in the game. He’s certainly being paid like one, and his signing will go a long way towards setting the rest of the market for starting pitchers this winter.

Another Blockbuster

Just as we were “going to press” the Royals and Rays announced a huge trade that makes Kansas City suddenly look like the team to beat in the AL Central. The Royals acquired pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis from the Rays for a slew of prospects, including OF Wil Meyers, P Jake Odorizzi, P Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard. The trade solidifies the Royals pitching staff, giving them the kind of depth any GM would covet, especially in the current environment in which good pitching is at a premium. Shields’ and Davis’ Fantasy value is unaffected by the move, but you could argue that pitching in the AL Central will be easier than the AL East, so a few more wins could be in the offing.

The Rays get Myers, arguably the current top prospect in MLB, to replace B.J. Upton, who was lost in free agency to the Atlanta Braves. Myers has solid plate skills and emerging power that should translate into 25-30 homers per season when he matures. He is major league ready right now and should make the Rays roster this spring. His Fantasy value will depend on how well he adjusts to ML pitching. For now, consider him a mid to late round speculative pick. Montgomery is a lefty, who was among the top prospects in the Royals system in 2011, although, he struggled with his control in the upper minors this past season. He’ll need to repeat Triple-A to sort out his issues, but still has the ceiling of a middle of the rotation starter. Odorizzi is a little further along in his development than Montgomery, so he should reach the majors sooner. However, his ceiling is more like that of a back of the rotation starter mainly due to expected low strikeout rates and problems with the long ball. His Fantasy value in 2013 will be limited to AL-Only leagues.

Smaller Chips

Can the Rays get Yunel Escobar to reach his potential? PHOTO CREDIT:Keith Allison

There were several signings and trades last week that will make a significant impact on the Fantasy landscape. Let’s examine a bunch of these without getting too in-depth.

Mike Napoli – He signed a three-year, $39M deal with the Red Sox, who presented him as their first baseman for 2013. Napoli supposedly wanted to remain a catcher, so this was a bit of a surprise. Although, the Red Sox could certainly move Jarrod Saltalamacchia and stash Ryan Lavarnaway in Triple-A for at least another season. Regardless, the Sawx now have good depth at a position that’s been thin for the organization, and they have themselves a right-handed power hitter with a history of mashing in Fenway Park. In 19 games played at Fenway, Napoli batted .306 with seven HRs and 17 RBI in 73 PA. His catcher eligibility makes him a valuable Fantasy commodity. Don’t let the quad injury that marred his 2012 concern you. Bid the extra buck or two, or select him a round or two early in drafts this spring. He’ll return plenty on your investment.

Yunel Escobar – He wasn’t a Marlin for long, but his move will be just across the state this time, as opposed to his last move, which was across the northern border from Canada all the way to the Sunshine State. The Rays acquired Escobar from the Marlins for a case of baseballs and an obscure minor league infielder (Derek Dietrich). Escobar is coming off a poor season compared to his first year with Toronto; his walk rate plummeted, which drove down his OBP and hurt his run scoring total. However, he has considerable upside and is certainly better than anyone else in the Rays organization at shortstop, aside from Ben Zobrist, who ended up there last season. Escobar is capable of HR totals in the mid-teens along with a .290ish batting average. If the Rays can keep his attitude and work ethic on the right track and help him regain his patient approach at the plate, Escobar has the potential to be a valuable Fantasy shortstop. At the very least, the Rays can use Ben Zobrist at either second base or in the outfield, which should help him regain his Fantasy value in 2013.

Ben Revere – After being outbid for B.J. Upton and Angel Pagan, the Phillies decided to trade for their centerfielder rather than get caught up in the Michael Bourn market. Revere is a contact hitter, who hits more ground balls than anything else and relies on his foot speed to get on base. Once on, he is a very capable base thief; he racked up 40 steals in 49 attempts (an 82-percent success rate) in 2012. Like most contact hitters, his BABIP drives his batting average. Revere would benefit from a higher walk rate to boost his OBP; he currently averages a walk rate of just 5.4 percent, unacceptably low for a leadoff batter, a role he will likely be asked to fill for the Phillies. Still, if he can keep his batting average around .300, as he did in 2012, another 40-50 steal season is certainly possible if that’s how they use him. The best part is that Revere can likely be drafted somewhere in the later rounds of mixed league drafts. He doesn’t have any power, so think of him like another Juan Pierre.

Shane Victorino – The Red Sox wanted another outfielder who could play centerfield as well as the corner outfield positions, so they settled on the Flyin’ Hawaiian for three years and $39M, just like new teammate, Mike Napoli. Victorino had an off year in 2012, with a drop off in power and batting average. The power loss could be due to his half season with the Dodgers, who don’t exactly have a hitter-friendly home park, and the lower batting average was driven by a low BABIP (.278). He also struggled against right-handed pitching in 2012, a problem he’s had from time to time throughout his career. Fenway Park has a way of curing the ills of a switch-hitter, and Victorino should still have plenty in the tank at age 32. He certainly still has his legs, as seen in his 39 stolen bases this past season. I expect a major rebound from Victorino as a member of the Red Sox; a 15-HR, 30-steal season with a batting average in the .270 range is well within his grasp again. He’ll make a fine third or fourth outfielder in mixed leagues.

Odds and Ends

Now that Greinke is a Dodger, look for the Rangers to step up their efforts to trade for R.A. Dickey. It’s also more likely that they pony up the money to retain Josh Hamilton. However, they’d best get their act in gear soon, as the Mariners are reportedly going hard after Hamilton… Aside from Hamilton, Michael Bourn is the only other free agent centerfielder of note, but there aren’t many teams in the market for that position. Minnesota has a hole there now, but will likely try to promote from within and are unlikely to meet Bourn’s salary demands. Is it possible that Bourn is frozen out?… Rumor has it that Daisuke Matsuzaka does not want to return to Japan just yet, but favors playing on the West coast over the East. Supposedly, his agent, Scott Boras, has spoken with the Padres. Dice-K in Petco could work… Several teams were hoping Dan Haren would still be out there after the rest of the market dried up. But he inked a one-year deal with the Nationals, so teams are looking at Ryan Dempster as a fallback option in the event they can’t land Anibal Sanchez. The Angels, Brewers and Red Sox have all kicked the tires on Dempster. The Royals took a look but decided Dempster was too expensive after his agent rejected a two-year $26M offer. It is believed that there is already a three-year deal on the table for the 35-year-old pitcher… Two significant bullpen signings this past week – the Rangers signing Joakim Soria to bolster their setup squad and the Red Sox getting Koji Uehara. Both pitchers are good enough to close should either Joe Nathan or Andrew Bailey go down with an injury… The Yankees have a one-year deal on the table for Kevin Youkilis, but I’ll bet the rent that Youkilis takes a two-year deal from Cleveland to work with his old buddy, Terry Francona, again. There is simply no way the Greek God of Walks will wear pinstripes and sign with the Yankees. Right?… Now that the Red Sox have Victorino, don’t underestimate their willingness to move Jacoby Ellsbury, who has played well when healthy, but had problems getting back on the field when injured. If they move Ellsbury, Victorino can play centerfield and the Sox can sign Cody Ross or Nick Swisher to play right field… Player agent Peter Greenberg deserves accolades for getting Marco Scutaro a three-year, $20M deal. Remember, Scutaro is 37 years old and will be over 40 when the contract is done. Scott Boras ain’t nothing compared to Greenberg.

Sources:

Fangraphs.com

Baseball_Reference.com

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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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