Avoid The Yankees Mistake; Don’t Draft Tanaka
The Yankees are the “winners” of the Masahiro Tanaka posting sweepstakes, signing the latest overhyped Japanese pitcher to a four-year, $88-million deal that could max out at seven years, $154-million if Tanaka exercises all of the options. I have “winners” in parenthesis on purpose – because I’m not a fan of this deal for the Yankees, nor do I think Tanaka will be a Fantasy ace. Since we’re focused on the Fantasy aspect of every signing here at RotoExperts, I will limit my commentary regarding the Yankees’ total waste of money by saying that they probably could have signed either Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez, or even Ervin Santana and gotten similar production for a whole lot less money. I’m going to let that comment “hang fire” for now and explain why you shouldn’t draft him as an ace, or buy him at auction for ace money, and let that speak to the Yankees’ big mistake.
Over the past seven seasons, Tanaka has posted an ERA of 2.30, including his rookie season-high ERA of 3.82 and last year’s ridiculous 1.27 ERA, during a season in which he went 24-0. Amazingly, he also posted a 1.27 season ERA back in 2011, when he went 19-5 in 27 starts for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese League. Tanaka isn’t an overpowering pitcher by any means. His fastball hums in there in the low-90’s, which is average at best, and he’s struck out about 8.5 batters per nine innings on average over his career. It also seems as though nobody in Japan can take Tanaka deep. In 1,315 innings pitched, Tanaka has given up just 66 home runs, or a startling 0.5 HR/9 IP.
Now that you’ve heard all the wonderful stuff, let’s look a little deeper for some truths. Tanaka is just 25 years old, the age when kids playing ball in America must be a special talent to get a sniff of the big leagues. Since Tanaka will also need to be acclimated to life here, his youth and lack of experience may require that he spend some time in the minors before joining the Yankees, perhaps even the entire 2014 season. It’s also worth noting that 1,315 innings pitched is a remarkably high number for a 25-year-old. There are reams of research that warn about high inning counts before the age of 23 affecting the natural growth of a player’s body, especially the arm. Granted, this applies down the road a piece, but I’d be a little leery about Tanaka’s long-term prospects given how heavily he’s already been used.
Since he’s not a hard thrower, Tanaka relies on feeding a steady diet of off-speed pitches to hitters. His best pitches are actually his slider and his splitter. Using those pitches early in the count may play well over in Japan, but you cannot feed off-speed pitches to hitters in MLB early in the count and expect strikes, especially if they’re off the plate a bit. Ask Daisuke Matsuzaka about nibbling the corners when you’re looking for strike one or you’re down in the count; it didn’t work well for him after his first couple of seasons. The Red Sox implored Matsuzaka to throw his fastball early in the count, and whether it was lack of confidence or lack of command, he simply could not do it. Dice-K was horribly ineffective when his fastball velocity faded due to a shoulder injury. If Tanaka cannot pound the strike zone early with fastballs, a’ la Yu Darvish, then hitters will just lay off the early splitters and sliders and abuse him when he throws a “get me over” fastball in a hitter’s count.
Much of Tanaka’s success is due in large part to his pinpoint control. Over the course of those same 1,315 career innings, he’s averaged just 1.9 walks per nine innings. That’s just insane! However, it would be folly to think he can duplicate that kind of success in MLB. In fact, he’s going to have a difficult time duplicating all of his skill metrics, meaning his strikeout rate (8.5 K/9IP), walk rate and home run rate (0.5 HR/9IP), as well as his WHIP (1.11 career). While we’re talking WHIP, it should be obvious that his low number there is driven by a lack of walks. His hit rate is actually a very average 8.1 hits per nine innings over his career, which brings up yet another reason to be wary of Tanaka this season. The Yankees infield defense is just awful. Robinson Cano is no longer manning the keystone, A-Roid will be at home looking for new ways to scam the drug testing protocols, Derek Jeter will have limited range at best (walkers don’t move very well on infield turf and soil), and the outfield defense won’t be all that great either. Tanaka’s hit rate is almost certain to be higher in MLB. If he doesn’t miss a significant number of bats and ends up pitching to contact with a lousy defense behind him…let’s just say, I’d keep a very close eye on his Batting Average on Balls in Play because that’s not going to be a recipe for success in a home ballpark that generally does not favor right-handed pitchers.
After all that, I don’t think I’m going very far out on a limb here in predicting that Tanaka will struggle with the Yankees in 2014. I didn’t even mention that he’ll be under intense scrutiny and pressure while pitching on MLB’s biggest stage, in its biggest city. Tanaka will be very heavily hyped in the Fantasy baseball realm this spring. Do yourself a big favor and let someone else take on what is sure to be a nightmare. Tanaka is not the second coming of Yu Darvish, and he just might end up reminding New Yorkers of Hideki Irabu instead.
Movin’ and Groovin’ in the New Year
In the last edition of Offseason Musings we explored the major transactions that occurred during the first few days of the MLB Winter Meetings as well as the days leading up to annual gathering of general managers, agents and players looking for a contract. More than 30 players were involved in a transaction of some sort at that point, but there remained scores of other players without a contract for the 2014 season. In the days since, there have been a few trades and many more signings, yet there remains a significant pool of available talent waiting for a deal. That means there will be several more editions of Offseason Musings dedicated to transactions and their Fantasy implications.
For now, we’ll look at the major transactions that have occurred to date, concentrating on those that are most significant within the Fantasy Baseball realm. Since we really don’t care how players ended up on their new team (or remained with their old one), we will not bother with the transaction details. Instead, we’ll concentrate on the impact of the deal in Fantasy play, try to gauge how the transaction will affect the player’s Fantasy value and whether there are implications for other players on the new or former team of the player in question. Therefore, in no particular order, these are the more significant player address changes of the past few weeks.
Doug Fister & Nate McLouth – The Nationals bolstered their already formidable starting rotation with the addition of Fister, who has been a very consistent pitcher over the last four major league seasons, two each spent with Seattle and Detroit. Fister isn’t a strikeout artist by any measure; he’s averaged 6.28 K/9 IP with a high water mark of 7.63 K/9 in 2012. He has superb control, averaging just 1.81 BB/9 over the last four seasons. Fister excels at pitching to contact, generating a groundball rate of 54.3 percent in 2013, a career best. While the Nationals’ infield defense is a bit below league average, there is little doubt that Fister’s new team is defensively stronger than the Tigers. (Although, that will likely change in 2014 with Jose Iglesias as the full time SS.) The combination of a stronger infield defense, a less HR-friendly home park and the move to the National League should show up as a positive influence on Fister’s pitching ratios (ERA, WHIP). Overall, the low strikeout numbers will keep Fister from joining the elite Fantasy pitchers, but he’ll certainly have significant value in NL-only leagues, and mixed leaguers will value him as a back end starter for his low ratio statistics.
One major implication of Fister’s move to the Nationals is that it finally opens up a starting rotation slot for lefty Drew Smyly. During Smyly’s very brief minor league career (143 IP over parts of two seasons) he was used exclusively as a starter. He posted terrific numbers (2.57 ERA, 9.7 K/9, 1.18 WHIP) that have largely translated to the major leagues. There may be an issue with innings totals as the 2014 season wears on, because Smyly has been used almost exclusively out of the bullpen and hasn’t exceeded 95 innings over the last two years. However, he must be considered a true sleeper candidate for 2014, given his solid strikeout numbers and ratio stats. Don’t overpay or reach for him early in drafts, though, because he could have his workload curtailed or even be shut down at some point late in the season.
Nate McLouth showed some resilience in 2013, looking more like the productive player he was for the Pirates in 2007 and 2008 than the disastrous, out-of-sync waste of a lineup spot player he was for the Braves from 2010 – 2012. McLouth reportedly adjusted his batting stance and approach at the plate, resulting in a nice bump in Contact rate from 84 percent in 2012 to 87.9 percent in 2013. His batting average rose to .258, his best since hitting .276 in 2008, and he stole 30 bases (a career-high) while contributing 12 HRs, the he’s contributed in a season since hitting 20 in 2009. He still hasn’t regained his once elite BB rate (13.7 percent in ’09) but he settled in right around nine percent and posted a .329 OBP in 2013, an improvement over his .314 mark of the previous year. McLouth also pared down his strikeout rate, which reached a peak of 20.5 percent in 2012; he slashed it down to 14.5 percent, his best mark since achieving a 13.6 percent K rate in 2008. Overall, it appears his rediscovered approach is real and sustainable, which makes him a good player to target in the later rounds of drafts in the spring.
However, as of this writing, McLouth is the fourth outfielder for the Nationals behind Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Denard Span, although, Span struggled for much of 2013 and a platoon is certainly a possiblility. Span has been the subject of numerous trade rumors of late, as the Nationals have looked to move on from him after a disappointing 2013 season. If they should be successful in trading Span, McLouth could be in line for a significant increase in playing time. If McLouth suddenly becomes the starting centerfielder for the Nationals in 2014, he will have significant value in mixed Fantasy leagues. Without that regular starting job, McLouth will be relegated to a bench depth/stolen base source role in all formats.
Rajai Davis & Joba Chamberlain – Since the Tigers missed out their chances to land either Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin Soo Choo it appears their solution to Austin Jackson’s issues against lefties was to sign speedy outfielder Rajai Davis. Despite his rather poor on-base skills and limited playing time, Davis has managed to steal 40-plus bases in four of his last five campaigns. It appears the Tigers want to use Davis’ career .294 batting average against left-handed pitching in a platoon with Austin Jackson, whose paltry .213 against southpaws made him a liability from the leadoff spot. Jackson has a career .291 average against righties and batted .291 against them in 2013. In general, platoons don’t square up well with Fantasy play, except in with daily lineup changes. So both players will be affected negatively if the Tigers go through with these plans. However, give Davis’ speed ability, those in daily leagues can probably get some value out of him, especially if he can swipe another 40 bags.
Joba Chamberlain is several years removed from effective work out of the bullpen for the Yankees. The Tigers are hoping that a change of scenery can return him to being at least a useful arm in their bullpen, which was easily their most glaring weakness in the 2013 post-season. He still has decent velocity on his fastball, though; it’s nowhere near the 97 mph that at one time made him a feared reliever out of the pen. If he can harness his command and control again to bring his strikeout rate back up into double-digits, they may get some decent value from Chamberlain. In Fantasy play, however, it’s very unlikely that he’ll have any value whatsoever.
Jim Johnson & Drew Pomeranz – The A’s have been among the most active teams this offseason, likely because Billy Beane’s reading of the tea leaves is telling him that his team as currently constructed is not far from contending for a World Series title. One component that made last year’s team so successful was the stability at the end of games that Grant Balfour provided. With Balfour gone to free agency, Beane wanted an established closer to replace him, so he traded for Jim Johnson. While Johnson has saved 101 games for the Orioles over the last two seasons, he’s done so with just middling strikeout numbers and superb control. Johnson thrives on generating groundballs and letting his defense handle the rest. Whether the A’s have the defensive strength to keep Johnson successful is a matter of some question, but he’ll be given every chance to claim and keep the closer’s job in 2014. If he fails, the A’s also have Luke Gregerson on board.
The A’s are hoping a new pitcher-friendly home park is just the thing to finally get Drew Pomeranz’ career rolling. After several unimpressive showings in the bigs, the 25-year-old Pomeranz will need to prove he is still worth his roster spot. Pomeranz isn’t a lock to make the A’s starting rotation. He doesn’t strike out a ton of batters for such a big pitcher, but the southpaw has shown improvement in his secondary pitches and there is a chance he’ll provide some value in AL-only leagues. Mixed league players should wait and see.
Norichika Aoki & Omar Infante – The Royals had difficulty scoring runs, mainly because they used Alex Gordon (.327 OBP) in the leadoff role; he’s much better suited to hit somewhere in the heart of the lineup given his power potential. So, the trade for Norichika Aoki makes a great deal of sense just for his OBP skills (.356 OBP in 2013). Aoki has stolen 50 bases over the last two seasons, 30 in 2012 and 20 in 2013, so he is perfectly suited for the leadoff job in Kansas City. The only problem may be that decline in steals, as Aoki is no spring chicken at age 34 entering the coming season. Assuming his legs are still healthy and the decline in steals is more a function of the Brewers’ lack of aggression on the basepaths, Aoki should be able to swipe 30 bags again and provide decent value as a source of steals and runs scored in Fantasy play. He’s a solid third or fourth outfielder in mixed leagues with the potential to be quite valuable if the Royals give him full-time work.
Second base has been a black hole of production for the Royals, with their best keystone player being Chris Getz. The signing of Omar Infante certainly gives them a much more productive starter at second. Infante’s numbers are very BABIP driven, though, which makes him a somewhat risky proposition for Fantasy use. His production in the various counting stat categories fluctuates greatly from year to year, mainly because of the volatility of his BABIP, which is not uncommon. He has some power, can give you some speed and he is capable of producing serviceable numbers in all five major Fantasy categories. However, keep in mind that he is also quite capable of putting up a dud of a season if his BABIP sinks. He is certain to have value in AL-only play, but mixed leaguers should monitor his BABIP closely if they choose to gamble with Infante in 2014.
Rafael Furcal, Brian Bogusevic, Garrett Jones & Jarrod Saltalamacchia – Once again, the Marlins are adding an assortment of castoffs and retreads to their mostly Triple-A team, masquerading as an effort to build a competitive squad without actually spending any real money. Rafael Furcal missed all of 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, the latest in a long history of injuries suffered throughout his career. If you aren’t skeptical about how much Furcal can contribute to your Fantasy team at age 36 then you absolutely should be. He hasn’t had a Fantasy-worthy season since 2006. Since then he’s gone from a perennial double-digit HR/30 SB machine to a light-hitting/sometimes productive (read: when healthy) roster filler. I wouldn’t recommend gambling on Furcal in any format this season and would suggest you leave him on the waiver wire to see if he shows any sign of his formerly productive self.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has turned into a “three outcomes” sort of player that hits for power but spends the rest of his plate appearances either walking (career 8.3 percent BB rate) or striking out (career 29.4 percent K rate). The Red Sox finally figured out that the best way to use Salty is exclusively as a left-handed hitter against right-handed pitching (.294 vs. righties in 2013, career .263). The Marlins still have Jeff Mathis, who can’t hit anything, and Rob Brantly, who profiles similar to Salty as a hitter. So it’s not completely clear how the Marlins intend to deploy any of them. Given Salty’s strikeout numbers and lack of production in all but the HR category, it’s hard to recommend using him for Fantasy play as anything but a second catcher in the very deepest of NL-only and mixed leagues. Meanwhile, Brantly, who many thought had some potential to be a Fantasy commodity, will sure lose major amounts of playing time with Salty on the roster. A trade is certainly possible, but we’ll have to wait and see what the Marlins do this spring.
Garrett Jones figures to be in the mix to start at first base for the Marlins. However, the signing of Jones is another head scratcher, given that they already have Greg Dobbs, who profiles as a similar type of hitter because like Jones, he can’t hit left-handed pitching. So, once again the team has signed a platoon player without having a complementary player on the roster to fill the platoon. As a left-handed hitter, Jones hits righties fairly well and with a decent amount of power; he’s put up double-digits in HRs in all but one of his big league seasons, peaking at 27 dingers in 2012. Jones should have value in NL-only and deep mixed leagues based on his power. The only problem is that he’s more likely to hit .230 than he is to bat .270, so you’ll have to be able to withstand the batting average hit to have him on your Fantasy roster.
One might look upon Brian Bogusevic’s numbers in Triple-A last year and find some hope that he could be a useful player. However, his status as a prospect is long gone at age 30 and that is highly unlikely to happen at this point. He’s a fourth or fifth outfielder in MLB, providing depth in the event of an injury to a starter, but there is little or no chance we’ll care about him in the Fantasy game.
Brian Wilson – Brian Wilson pitched well enough in a dozen innings for the Dodgers last year that they’ve added him for 2014. If Kenley Jansen has the kind of year he had in 2012, when he blew seven saves, or he becomes injured, we could see Wilson return to a closer role. For that reason, he should be on your radar next season. Jansen was pretty solid last year (only four blown saves) but there’s no guarantee he’ll be consistent and repeat this year. I wouldn’t draft Wilson during the preseason but I would certainly have him dialed up as a waiver wire addition if Jansen struggles even a little. The pressure will be on for the Dodgers to win in 2014, and Jansen will feel the heat more than most.
Curtis Granderson & Bartolo Colon – Curtis Granderson’s 2013 season was a disaster for all intents and purposes, and during the brief time when he was healthy he didn’t look so hot either. His contact rate was ridiculously low at 69.5 percent and he struck out a whopping 28 percent of the time, mainly due to a very high swinging strike rate of 13.6 percent. Unless he pulls those numbers up considerably, I expect him to continue to post batting averages down in the .230 range with less power than he showed in Yankee stadium’s friendly confines.
Given Bartolo Colon’s history with PEDs and his “miraculous” return to effective pitching, I have to remain skeptical about his chances of repeating his 2013 performance with the A’s. From a purely statistical standpoint, his Expected Fielding Independent Pitcher (XFIP) was 3.95, which was well above his actual ERA of 2.65, an indication that much of what he did was driven by luck (80 percent Strand Rate), smoke and mirrors. I guess that’s fitting for a pitcher at age 40 with a connection to banned substances. Don’t buy into last year’s “miracle,” as he isn’t going to do it again with the Mets.
Shin Soo Choo & J.P. Arencibia – The Shin Soo Choo signing was a brilliant move on the part of the Rangers, who desperately needed his on base skills (.423 OBP in 2013, .389 career) at the top of their batting order. With Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre in the heart of the order, there’s a very good chance that Choo will be the top run scorer in the AL in 2014. There is no reason to expect anything less than Choo’s 2013 production again, and perhaps even a slight improvement given the slightly better run environment of his home park. Choo is on my short list of targeted players in this season’s drafts.
The Toronto Blue Jays ran J.P. Arencibia out of town. They simply could no longer wait for him to become the hitter they were expecting when they drafted him. Arencibia should thrive with the Rangers; although, it appears that Geovany Soto will be the primary catcher. The split stats don’t favor one catcher over the other, as neither of them hits for a decent average. Arencibia has the edge over Soto in power, but Soto is the better defensive catcher by far. In the end, neither catcher is going to have great value in Fantasy play, as Soto will likely be ranked somewhere in the mid-twenties among the Top 30 at the position and Arencibia might not make the Top 30 at all.
Adam Eaton & Matt Davidson – Given the poor performance put forth by the White Sox in 2013, who can blame them for blowing up the roster and adding some youth to their aging group of players. Adam Eaton was riddled with injuries that ruined his coming out party in 2013, but he’ll get a second chance to shine in Chicago, likely grabbing the leadoff spot and becoming the starting centerfielder on the South Side. The addition of Eaton has a trickle-down effect on several other players, most notably Alejandro De Aza, who moves over to left field in a platoon with Dayan Viciedo. Eaton’s arrival also virtually guarantees that prospect Jordan Danks will spend another season in the minors and will likely move to a corner outfield slot if/when he does make the Show. Of course, a big Spring training by any or all of the aforementioned could change this scenario, but that remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen whether Eaton delivers on his once promising projections of 50-plus stolen bases and runs by the score.
There is a lot to like about Matt Davidson, primarily his big time power swing, which should guarantee plenty of home runs. However, defensive problems and problems with striking out could conspire to derail his progress in the majors. The White Sox will likely have to be patient while Davidson goes through his growing pains, and Fantasy owners will need to exhibit equal amounts of patience because Davidson will look very much like the second coming of (pencil in your favorite three true outcome power hitter here). The White Sox would be foolish to give him anything less than a full season, especially since they are going nowhere in 2014, so if you draft Davidson you can likely do so with confidence that he’ll play all year. Of course, just what that will look like on the stat sheet may not be pretty, so draft for the power and hope that he figures out how to close some of the holes in his swing.
Mark Trumbo & Addison Reed – The acquisition of Mark Trumbo is a real head scratcher for me. I thought the Diamondbacks learned their lesson with Mark Reynolds. You know, the one that says, “DH types rarely succeed in the National League, and their great power is diminished by the many, many whiffs they pile up.” I mean, they traded away Matt Davidson, jettisoned Jason Kubel and set their sights on players with better overall hit tools. So, adding Trumbo just doesn’t seem to make sense. Since they don’t have room at first base with Paul Goldschmidt not going anywhere, Trumbo will have to play in the outfield where he’s a defensive liability. However, he will be in a home stadium that should favor his hitting style, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see an uptick in HR production, but I would also expect his batting average to remain somewhere in the .230-.250 range because of all the strikeouts. Even the change of league won’t help him make better contact.
Addison Reed notched 40 saves for the hapless White Sox in 2013, but he also blew eight saves and his 3.79 ERA was less than desirable in Fantasy and regular baseball terms. Put another way, Reed was no more than an average reliever for the White Sox. He joins a bullpen that sorely needed someone to be healthy and step up last season, so he has a shot at being the closer for the Diamondbacks. Odds are that J.J. Putz gets the first chance at the gig, but given his track record as far as health is concerned, Reed could have the job before April is over. No matter how it plays out, Reed will likely end up with at least 20 saves before all is said and done. Of course, his erratic performance in 2013 doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, so David Hernandez could also be in the mix. Having said all that, I think it’s best to avoid the Diamondbacks pen altogether and look for your closer elsewhere.
AL WEST DOMINATES PLAYER MARKET SO FAR
When it came time for me to book a vacation, I looked at the calendar and decided that the first week of December would be a good time to take some time off. The free agency period would be more than a month old and I figured things would be quiet until the end of the annual Winter Meetings, which have just gotten underway. Boy was I wrong about that. Just as I was set to leave on vacation last week there was a major signing announced. Then came a flurry of activity that seemed hell bent on ruining any chance I had at relaxing while I was away. Here are just a few of the signings that conspired to ruin my vacation last week:
Tampa Bay Rays – Acquired C Ryan Hanigan from the Reds and Heath Bell from the Diamondbacks,
sending RHP Justin Choat and a player to be named to Arizona and LHP David Holmberg to Cincinnati.
Hanigan is a high-contact hitter (91.8 percent career Contact rate) with an aggressive approach at the plate and below average power for a catcher. Excessive infield pop-ups and a very low BABIP (.216) conspired to ruin his batting average (.198) in 2013. He should bounce back with regular at bats as part of a platoon with Tampa Bay. Joe Maddon may be able to work some magic and return Hanigan to Fantasy relevance in deeper AL-only play but he has a long way to go to make an impact in mixed leagues.
Heath Bell looked a little better towards the end of 2013, but he’ll be another reclamation project for the Rays. Since they were willing to deal with Fernando Rodney’s shortcomings, it’s entirely possible they will tolerate Bell’s long ball problems and install him as a closer if needed. Therefore, Bell should be on your radar as a potential source of saves, but he probably won’t get the gig out of Spring Training.
Philadelphia Phillies – Acquired LHP Brad Lincoln from the Toronto Blue Jays for C Erik Kratz and LHP Rob Rasmussen.
Brad Lincoln is a hard throwing lefty with severe control and long ball issues. He doesn’t have much potential to close and is probably destined for a specialist role (LOOGY) with the Phillies.
Kratz did an admirable job behind the plate for the Phillies when Carlos Ruiz was suspended for PED use. He’ll serve a backup role for Toronto and as such will have little or no value in Fantasy play.
Rasmussen was a top prospect for the Dodgers just a few years ago but he hasn’t progressed in his command and control as expected. If the Blue Jays can straighten out the quirks in his delivery to cut down on the walks, he has some nasty breaking stuff that could make him a valuable bullpen piece. However, the big “ifs” and his lack of a solid fastball will keep him from closing games, so his value in Fantasy is nil.
Oakland A’s – Acquired OF Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom from the Texas Rangers for OF Michael Choice and IF Chris Bostick. The A’s also acquired RHP Luke Gregerson from the San Diego Padres for OF Seth Smith, and signed LHP Scott Kazmir to a two-year deal.
Gentry is a decent hitter with plus speed but he lacks power. Since only four AL teams stole fewer bases than the A’s, Billy Beane probably acquired Gentry to bolster the team in that category. Gentry can play all three outfield positions and will likely be used as the fourth outfielder on the roster, spelling Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick to get about three starts per week. Of course, given Crisp’s injury history, Gentry will likely start plenty of games in center field. He’ll have value in AL-only leagues due to his speed but he’s more of an injury replacement in mixed leagues.
Josh Lindblom is another former Dodgers prospect whose development has not gone as planned. At best, he projects as a future bullpen piece, but he’ll need to harness his control and polish his mechanics before he’s ready to contribute to the A’s. Unfortunately, he probably won’t ever have any Fantasy value.
Luke Gregerson will probably get a shot at closing games for the A’s unless they re-sign Grant Balfour or make another deal. Gregerson hasn’t exactly thrived as a closer in the past, at least not like he did in setup work. However, he has a nasty slider that consistently misses bats and produces decent strikeout numbers, so he’s clearly capable of doing the job. He should be on the radar of Fantasy managers in all game formats next season.
Scott Kazmir returned from oblivion to resurrect his career and put up better than expected innings for the Indians in 2013. He regained his long lost velocity (and then some) by rediscovering the mechanics that made him such a hot prospect back when the Mets drafted him then traded him away to the Rays. The A’s pitcher-friendly home park should help Kazmir continue his big comeback and if the offense offers some run support he could easily win 15-18 games with better than league average ratios. He’ll certainly be a staple in AL-only leagues and a decent back of the rotation starter for mixed league play.
Michael Choice is ready to contribute to the Rangers now and he has a decent chance to be one of their starting corner outfielders in 2014. Choice has emerging raw power but he strikes out quite often and probably won’t hit for more than a .260 average. However, his power has developed enough that he could be a useful fourth or fifth outfielder in deep mixed leagues.
Chris Bostick is a middle infield prospect who has the tools to be a starting second baseman at some point. He doesn’t have any elite tools but he has solid gap power and the plate skills to hit for average. Bostick should also be able to steal double-digit bases despite having just average speed. Jurickson Profar blocks him at second base and Elvis Andrus at shortstop, so until one or the other is gone the best he can expect is a utility role with the Rangers. However, he could be the heir apparent at either position somewhere down the line.
Seth Smith’s move to the Padres won’t do his production any favors, as spacious Petco Park will suppress his already below average power. Smith will likely be stuck in a platoon anyway, so his Fantasy value will be limited to the deepest of NL-only leagues.
Minnesota Twins – Signed free agent SP Ricky Nolasco to a four-year contract and came to terms with SP Phil Hughes on a three-year deal.
Ricky Nolasco is a bit of an anomaly in that he’s consistently under-performed his skill set. Nolasco showed some improvement last season, posting a 3.70 ERA and raising his strikeout rate after several years of decline. He has the stuff to be a decent middle of the rotation pitcher and an innings eater for a team that desperately needs several. If he can continue where he left off in 2013, there is some potential mixed league value here, but Nolasco is probably best utilized in AL-only play.
Phil Hughes had his worst year as a professional in 2013. However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that a change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered. Hughes has always been homer-prone, but he was victimized repeatedly in Yankee Stadium last season with 17 of his 24 homers allowed occurring in the Bronx. Hughes really can’t be any worse than his 2013 numbers, but he probably won’t ever be as good as his 2010 season. Look for something in between the two for the Twins next season, when AL-only leaguers will want to invest in him as a back end starter while mixed leaguers should wait and see before taking a leap of faith.
Houston Astros – Acquired OF Dexter Fowler and a player to be named from the Colorado Rockies for OF Brandon Barnes and SP Jordan Lyles. Agree to terms on a two-year deal with SP Scott Feldman.
Dexter Fowler is loaded with the kind of skills that make Fantasy managers quiver in anticipation of a breakout season. But injuries and under-performance have been the story of Fowler’s career to date, enough so that the Rockies grew tired of waiting and cut bait. Whether Fowler will finally break out in a new environment depends on whether you believe he’s an underachiever with poor work habits, as some have said, or he’s just had an extended run of tough luck. Like most Rockies players, Fowler has hit more than 50 points higher in Colorado than on the road over his career, so I’m not optimistic that we’ll see much more than he’s already shown us. I expect that the change to the AL will lower his overall production some, and the Astros lack of support hitters will only take Fowler lower.
Scott Feldman is a league average type of pitcher with middling skills and a long track record as a .500 pitcher. Moving to a team that offers poor run support isn’t going to make his numbers any better. At best, he’s a back of the Fantasy rotation starter in AL-only play. Mixed leaguers will want to pass altogether.
Brandon Barnes was unimpressive in his first full season in the majors in 2013. He strikes out a ton, didn’t show the patience at the plate he exhibited in the minors and chased too many pitches out of the zone. Barnes is supposed to have a similar power/speed profile to the man he was traded for (Fowler), but he has yet to show that kind of upside in the majors. He looks like bench depth for the Rockies right now, unless they opt to return him to the minors for polish. Given that he is 27 years old, the clock is ticking on his opportunity to blossom in The Show. The skills are there, but it’s a matter of speculation as to whether they’ll ever show up.
Jordan Lyles doesn’t have overpowering stuff and he doesn’t strike out a lot of batters. He’s shown good control in the minors, not so much in the majors, and the Rockies are betting he’ll continue to generate solid groundball numbers. Regardless of that, he’s probably not the kind of Rockies pitcher that can be trusted in your Fantasy rotation. At best, Fantasy managers will want to wait and see how he pitches in his new hitter-friendly home before making the leap of faith.
Detroit Tigers – Signed free agent RP Joe Nathan to a two-year deal.
It’s been a few years since the Tigers have had a legitimate closer on the team. Joe Nathan is certainly legitimate with 43 saves for the Rangers in 2013 and 341 career saves since 1999. Nathan still throws a fastball with good gas (92.4 mph in 2013) despite the fact that he’ll be 40 years old next season, but he relies on his slider more than ever as his out pitch. He underwent Tommy John surgery just three years ago but came back as strong as ever. He’ll be a Top 10 closer again in 2014 with the potential for another 40-plus save season.
Boston Red Sox – Signed free agent C A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year contract. Re-signed free agent 1B Mike Napoli to a two-year deal and free agent RP Edward Mujica to a two-year contract.
The Red Sox were never serious bidders for Brian McCann, mainly because they refuse to hand out long-term deals after being burned by Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. So to fill their need for a catcher, signing Pierzynski to a one-year deal gives them a better hitter than Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the man he replaces, and the flexibility to either bring up a farmhand or sign another catcher next winter. Meanwhile, Pierzynski has a career .322/.328/.424 triple slash line at Fenway over his career, and he still has plenty of pop despite his age (37 years). He’s a Top 20 catcher in 2014.
Mike Napoli ended up staying with Boston, a move that is probably best for all concerned. He hit well in Fenway Park (.249/.360/.457) and adapted well to full-time play at first base. The loss of catcher eligibility hurts his Fantasy value quite a bit, but he’ll still have plenty of value as a first baseman in mixed league play because of his power.
Edward Mujica represents bullpen depth for the Red Sox but if Koji Uehara falters after his heavy workload in 2013, he’ll be in line to close games again. He could also be a source of holds if the Sox use him in the later innings as a bridge to their setup man.
Chicago White Sox – Re-signed free agent 1B Paul Konerko to a one-year deal.
Konerko suffered through his worst season as a pro in 2013 but his peripheral numbers indicate that all may not be lost for the first baseman. His batted ball profile is within his normal range and he didn’t strike out any more than usual. There is a good chance that his power, which never really materialized last season, could return if he is fully healthy in 2014. Overall, Konerko will be a high risk-high reward draft pick next season. If he can be had on the cheap, he’ll be worth a flier late in mixed league drafts because the potential for 30 home runs is still there.
New York Yankees – Signed free agent IF/OF Kelly Johnson to a one-year contract. Also signed free agent OF Carlos Beltran to a three-year deal, re-signed SP Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal and locked up free agent OF Jacoby Ellsbury for seven years.
Adding Carlos Beltran to the roster gives the Yankees a pretty crowded outfield for next year. However, given Beltran’s occasional health problems and the advanced ages of all their outfielders, the Yankees may need plenty of depth to get through the season. Beltran will thrive from the left side of the plate in Yankee Stadium with its short porch in right field, and there is no reason to think he’ll produce anything less than last year’s .296/.339/.491 line in 2014. That makes Beltran a Top 30 outfielder in mixed league play and one of the most valuable outfielders in AL-only leagues.
Jacoby Ellsbury will also thrive in Yankee Stadium, but I wouldn’t pencil him in for 30-plus homers based on his new home park. His 2011 numbers (32 HRs) appear to be an outlier, as Ellsbury was never projected to be a power hitter. However, if he remains healthy (he’s played just two full seasons since 2008) he has the potential to steal 50-plus bases and hit 20 home runs as the leadoff hitter for the Yankees. Ellsbury will be a Top 10 outfielder in mixed leagues.
Kelly Johnson isn’t exactly a replacement for Robinson Cano, but he can be a stopgap option for the Yankees at second base if they’re unable to swing a deal for someone better. Although, it’s hard to imagine that they won’t be able to get someone better. Johnson has good power but he’s a free swinging hacker at the plate, who strikes out way too often and won’t exceed a .240 batting average as a result. He’s best suited in a utility role, much like the way the Rays used him. However, if the Yankees can clean up his approach at the plate, he could surprise and thrive, which would do a ton for his Fantasy value, especially if he does end up being the Yankees starting second baseman.
Hiroki Kuroda was the Yankees best starting pitcher in 2013. Somehow, Brian Cashman talked Kuroda into re-upping for another season instead of retiring and returning back to Japan. His strikeout rate has dropped in each of the last four seasons but he’s been surprisingly consistent as far as his ratios go. The low K totals make him less than desirable for Fantasy use, but he still has mixed league value as a back end of the rotation starter.
Seattle Mariners – Signed free agent 2B Robinson Cano to a three-year contract.
The Mariners surprised everyone by extending a 10-year contract to Cano. However, the average salary per year (approx. $23M) makes sense, as Cano was the best available player this winter and probably for several winters to come. The Mariners should get plenty of value out of Cano over the first three to five years of the deal. The move to Safeco for half of his games shouldn’t hurt Cano’s production as he’s amasses a .305/.350/.487 line there in 163 plate appearances. His home run totals may drop a bit, but I still expect him to produce numbers worthy of a first round mixed league player.
Obviously, I haven’t covered all of the trades and signings of the past week. So look for a second edition of Offseason Musings in a couple of days that will cover the rest of the action from the Winter Meetings as they wrap up.
FREE AGENTS PERALTA, MCCANN AND HAREN SIGN
The Hot Stove fires are fully stoked now as we’ve had another significant trade in addition to two major free agent signings in the days since the Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler deal got things started. Here’s a look at these deals and their expected impact on the Fantasy landscape and trade market.
CARDINALS WASTE NO TIME RETOOLING FOR 2014
The Cardinals reshaped their infield with two broad strokes in the last 72 hours. They traded third baseman David Freese and right-handed pitcher Fernando Salas to the Angels for outfielder Peter Bourjos and OF prospect Randal Grichuk. St. Louis also signed free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a four-year deal in the neighborhood of $52 million dollars. Moving the oft-injured Freese, whose bat tended to disappear at times, means the Cardinals can slide Matt Carpenter over to third base, his natural position. Carpenter had a breakout 2013 campaign, batting .318/.392/.431 and scoring 126 runs as the primary table-setter atop the Cardinals lineup. While he isn’t the power hitter one normally associates with the hot corner, his 88.8 percent Contact rate, 13.7 K percentage and 10 percent walk rate all make him well-suited to his top of the order role.
With Carpenter moving to third, prospect Kolten Wong (figures to be the Cardinals starting second baseman in 2014 unless the team has another deal up its sleeve. Wong looked good in 463 Plate Appearances at Triple-A in 2013, putting together a .303/.369/.466 effort with 10 HRs and 20 SBs over 107 games. He didn’t do much in limited play with the Cardinals over the final months of the season, but he projects as an above-average hitter with enough power and speed to reach double-digits in both categories. He will likely be ranked among the Top 25 second basemen to begin the 2014 season, assuming he gets the starting gig.
Peralta is a career .268/.330/.425 hitter with decent pop and slightly above average fielding skills, who should fit well in the Cardinals lineup. He’s averaged 32 doubles per season over the last nine years, so his hitting skills will play just fine in the Cardinals expansive home field. The move to the National League may help boost his batting average slightly but don’t expect a bump in HR production. Peralta has been ranked among the Top 12 shortstops fairly consistently over the course of his career and will likely remain so in 2014. With Peralta at shortstop, Carpenter at third and Wong taking over the keystone, Pete Kozma is relegated to the bench as a pinch-hitter and sometimes substitute/utility player. Considering his career .232/.293/.315 triple-slash, he’s lucky to still be on a major league roster.
Peter Bourjos had a breakout season at the age of 24 back in 2011 with the Angels, batting .271 with 12 HRs, 72 Runs, 22 SBs and 11 Triples over 552 PA as the starting centerfielder. Injuries and a roster clogged with outfielders have kept Bourjos sidelined for much of the last two seasons, and the arrival of uber-phenom Mike Trout made him completely expendable. The Cardinals roster is also somewhat clogged with outfielders but with nowhere near the level of talent, especially if the team doesn’t re-sign free agent Carlos Beltran. So Bourjos will be competing for playing time with the likes of Jon Jay, Shane Robinson and prospect Oscar Taveras, who is expected to make the big club next spring. Given his age (27 in March 2014), time is running out for Bourjos to become a full-time player and his role with the Cardinals next season is far from written in stone. Of course, his Fantasy value and ranking will be closely tied to the amount of playing time the team gives him. So for now, we can only view him as a potentially decent fourth or fifth OF in relatively deep leagues until we know more about the Cardinals plans for him.
Randal Grichuk is an outfield prospect who won’t threaten to replace anyone on the Cardinals roster any time soon. He spent all of 2013 playing his first season in Double-A ball, where some troublesome trends in his profile remained from previous professional seasons. On the bright side, he has prodigious amounts of raw power, clubbing 22 HRs in 542 PA, and 57 of his 128 hits (45 percent!) went for extra bases. Grichuk can also run a bit, with 25 steals over his last two professional seasons. However, while he doesn’t strike out excessively (17 percent K rate in 2013), he doesn’t walk all that often either (5.2 percent BB rate in 2013). He has solid pitch recognition skills but lacks the discipline and patience necessary for a power hitter of his ilk. Grichuk is just 22 years old, so there is still plenty of time for him to advance his skill set and improve his approach at the plate. So for now, you can simply tuck his name away as someone to check on late next season. By then we’ll have a much better idea about how his skills are evolving and whether he’ll be a factor in 2015.
The Angels are a perfect example of how money invested poorly can shackle a team and anchor them to the bottom of the standings. The addition of David Freese plugs a hole at third base that was created when the Angels shipped Alberto Callaspo to the A’s for second baseman Grant Green. The main rap on Freese has been his consistent inability to remain healthy. The last two seasons have been his best in that regard, having played 144 games in 2012 and 138 in 2013.
After several seasons of consistent production and batting averages in the .290-.300 range, 2013 was a decidedly down year for Freese. He managed to put up a line of .262/.340/.381, all three representing career lows. Freese swatted just nine HRs after hitting a career-high 20 in 2012. However, to be fair, it should be noted that he’s never really been considered a power hitter. Freese has most often profiled as a line drive hitter with power to the gaps. The primary reason for his rough 2013 is hidden in his batted ball profile. While he hit line drives 20.9 percent of the time, that was almost a career low for that metric, while his groundball rate rose to a career-high 55.2 percent. The combination of the two resulted in a significantly lower BABIP. Freese typically put up BABIPs of .350 to .375, but in 2013 he managed only a .320 mark, which accounts for much of his loss in batting average.
Unfortunately, the move to the American League is likely to result in further erosion of Freese’s batting average, as hitters typically struggle to adjust to a generally higher caliber of pitching and a slightly different strike zone. Freese will be 31 years of age in April of 2014, and thus you should expect him to see his decline phase before too long and possibly as soon as this coming season. The Angels lineup is arguably more talented than the Cardinals, although that would be predicated upon Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton returning to production levels somewhat closer to their former levels, an unlikely but plausible scenario. However, if that should somehow miraculously happen, Freese could easily put up respectable numbers at third base, a terribly shallow Fantasy position in recent years.
The addition of Fernando Salas adds depth to a bullpen that collectively pitched to a 4.24 ERA in 2013 and suffered numerous injuries that left the Angels scrambling to fill late-inning roles at times. Salas has a career Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.97 and had an ERA of 4.50 in 2013, so how much he’ll actually help the Angels is a matter of speculation. He won’t be much help to anyone in Fantasy, as he is unlikely to ever be tapped for closing duties and probably won’t be used in high leverage situations where he might pick up some holds. In other words, you need not worry about Salas.
THE YANKEES SIGN BRIAN MCCANN
You can always count on the Yankees to step up and overpay someone during the offseason; this year’s beneficiary of the team’s liberal checkbook practices is free agent catcher Brian McCann. The Yankees’ new backstop is a perennial 20-plus HR hitter with a career .196 Isolated Power (ISO) and .277 batting average. He doesn’t strike out very often and usually racks up elite walk rates, good enough to bolster his career On Base Percentage (OBP) to .350. McCann is regularly ranked among the Top 10 catchers and will likely remain so for several more years. Still, five years and $85 million dollars represents more money (and years) than most teams were willing to give a soon to be 30-year-old catcher. However, in addition to the offensive punch he’ll add to the Yankees lineup, McCann is also considered a solid defensive catcher who will be a stabilizing influence on the pitching staff. Like most hitters that switch leagues, McCann will likely struggle during his transition year to the AL, but he is a skillful hitter who should adapt relatively quickly without a major impact on his overall production.
The Yankees will have some decisions to make about which of their current catchers will be McCann’s primary backup. They have Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine on the roster now, but at least one of the three will likely be released. Cervelli is probably the best hitter of the bunch and will probably snag the backup job with Romine headed back to the minors and Stewart ending up being designated for release. None of the three will have much, if any Fantasy value in 2014, except perhaps Cervelli, and then only if McCann is injured for a decent stretch.
OTHER NEWS AND RUMORS
The signing of McCann leaves Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the best available free agent catcher on the market. Reportedly, the Twins are interested in Salty as their primary catcher now that the team has finally convinced Joe Mauer to move over to first base to preserve his body. The Red Sox have also expressed an interest in bringing Saltalamacchia back, though, they were said to be in on McCann and have also been linked to Dioner Navarro and A.J. Pierzynski as a potential platoon partner to David Ross.
Now that McCann is gone from the Braves, Evan Gattis is the heir apparent to the backstop job with Atlanta. Gattis had a breakout season in 2013 but his bat disappeared for long stretches in the middle of the season. At one point he was demoted to the minors to regain his power stroke. Gattis has enough power to overlook his considerable strikeout rate, and he will probably bat in the cleanup spot in the Braves lineup. Gattis could be a hidden value in Fantasy next season.
The next big signing could be Jacoby Ellsbury, but just where he’ll end up is not at all clear. The Rangers, Yankees, Tigers and Red Sox have all been linked to interest in Ellsbury and all four teams have the need and the money to sign the speedy outfielder. No matter where he signs, Ellsbury is a Top 20 Fantasy player in 2014 as a potential 50 stolen base threat.
Stephen Drew was thought to be a perfect fit for the Cardinals at shortstop but the signing of Jhonny Peralta means he has one less potential landing spot. Drew put up decent regular season numbers for the Red Sox but he was absolutely dreadful in the post season, which may have reduced his market even further. He will end up playing somewhere but he isn’t likely to get a long-term deal and will probably have to sign another relatively short money contract (again) and prove he’s worth the risk.
Dan Haren had an awful 2013, posting a 4.67 ERA with the Nationals. But his FIP was almost a full run lower, his strikeout rate was a robust 8.0 K/9 and he only walked 1.6 batters per nine innings, all solid numbers that indicate he was much better than his surface stats indicate. Apparently, the Dodgers agreed and signed Haren to a one-year deal for $10M. Haren will have to compete for a rotation spot in the spring but he’ll likely be penciled in as the Dodgers fourth or fifth starter. There is potential for some sneaky Fantasy value with Haren; he is someone who should be on your radar as a late round draft pick or $3 flier at auction in 2014.
FIELDER TRADE WILL REVERBERATE IN FANTASY BASEBALL
By now you are well aware of the trade that sent Prince Fielder and a boatload of cash to the Texas Rangers and Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers. While we could debate the merits of the Rangers investing in Fielder, a player whose production has declined for three straight years, the real ramifications of this deal will trickle down to affect numerous other players. Let’s consider just a few of the more obvious changes to the Fantasy landscape for 2014.
Prince Fielder – The move to The Ballpark in Arlington takes Fielder from an environment that was third-best for runs and 13th best for HRs in terms of park factors to one that was 17th and 19th best for runs and HRs respectively. It also takes him from one of the weaker divisions to a somewhat stronger one in terms of pitching. One plus is that he’ll get 18 games against the doormat Houston Astros next season.
Ian Kinsler – Of course, he goes in the opposite direction from Fielder in park factors. He also gets to stay at second base instead of moving to first base as was expected if he remained with the Rangers. But it’s also worth noting that in 162 plate appearances in Comerica Park, Kinsler batted just .200/.298/.329 and he hasn’t exactly torn the cover off the ball in several other AL Central ballparks.
Jurickson Profar – The Rangers man without a position to play now has one with Kinsler gone. He was somewhat under-whelming in 2013, but then he didn’t play regularly either, which probably hurt his development a bit. He’ll get regular at bats in 2014 as the Rangers everyday second baseman. If he hits and gets on base he’ll hit near the top of the lineup and he’ll have Fielder and Adrian Beltre to drive him home. Big “if,” though, based on what we’ve seen so far.
Adrian Beltre – He gains a little lineup protection from Fielder, something that was sorely lacking this past season.
Mitch Moreland – Moreland is the biggest loser in all of this, as he loses any chance of playing first base for the Rangers ever again. In fact, it’s not clear just what they’ll do with Moreland at all, especially given his struggles with the bat last season.
Miguel Cabrera – Miggy moves across the diamond to man first base for the Tigers going forward. Given his poor defense at the hot corner this can only be a plus for Tigers pitchers. Cabrera’s body will also benefit from the somewhat less taxing position of first base. Maybe he’ll avoid being banged up next October.
Nick Castellanos – He’s another big winner, as he will no longer be blocked from playing third base, his natural position. His bat is ready for the bigs, so he will be the likely starting third baseman for the Tigers next season. With a decent power/average bat he’ll be a Fantasy darling right from the get go.
Mike Napoli – There’s been lots of speculation that he would return to the Rangers after winning a World Series with the Red Sox, who don’t want to give him a multi-year deal. Now he has one less possible landing spot since the Rangers don’t have need of his services anymore – unless he goes back to catching. Not likely. He could end up back in Boston now.
MIKE TROUT SITS ATOP THE EARLY 2014 RANKINGS
It’s time to stoke the fires of the Hot Stove season, sometimes called silly season because of all the crazy trade speculation and free agent rumors. Thus far, things have been pretty quiet but now that the annual General Manager meetings are over, the ball generally gets rolling on trade talks. Often the groundwork for trades is laid during the GM meetings but deals are rarely finalized before the Winter Meetings, which will take place next month beginning December 9.
One important event of note has already happened; all 13 of the players who received qualifying offers from their teams rejected them, opting to test the free agent waters instead. Now the real free agency games can begin in earnest. Most pundits agree that this is a relatively thin year for free agent talent so the players that rejected those offers probably made the right call. There is one major difference that sets this free agent market apart from recent past years in that MLB teams are flush with cash to spend from the new TV deal that kicks in for 2014. The feeling is that teams will feel compelled to spend whatever is necessary to lock in the talent they need to be competitive, even if it means overpaying for less-than-elite talent.
Throughout the winter, RotoExperts will keep you informed about player movement via trades and free agency, and let you know how it will affect their Fantasy value for 2014. In the meantime, let’s take a peek at the early Overall Top 25 Fantasy rankings for 2014. In future posts here we’ll take a look at the Top 20 by position.
- Mike Trout – Two years of solid performance is enough to convince me that he belongs on top.
- Miguel Cabrera – Injuries really ruined his post season, but nothing can take away from his dominant hitting performance during the regular season.
- Andrew McCutchen – Three straight 20/20 seasons and he’s just entering his peak production years. The power will return in 2014 with 30/30 a strong possibility.
- Paul Goldschmidt – He entered the elite realm in 2013 and should be a power hitting force for years to come. Remember, he just turned 26!
- Robinson Cano – Cano is past he peak now but there is no reason to think he doesn’t have at least a few more years of solid production in him. Still the top 2B in Fantasy no matter where he ends up.
- Hanley Ramirez – A healthy Ramirez would be among the Top 3 here. He was an absolute beast when he was in the lineup. The Dodgers were lost without him.
- Adam Jones – He’s a consistent performer but his refusal to take a walk means we’ve probably seen his ceiling unless he changes his approach.
- Adrian Beltre – His power numbers were down a bit but he walked more often and still drove in and scored plenty of runs in a lousy lineup.
- Clayton Kershaw – Kershaw was dominant and will remain so in 2014.
- Chris Davis – Davis would be ranked higher if I believed he could maintain a 29.6 percent HR/FB rate. He should still hit close to 40 HRs but I’d be shocked if he hit 50 again. He strikes out way too often for lightning to strike twice.
- Troy Tulowitski – Tulo did more in 126 games than any other SS did with 150 or more. If he could stay healthy he’d be in the Top 5. He turns 30 in 2014, so there are still a few good years left in him.
- Yu Darvish – Tremendous K rate (11.89 K/9) offset the occasional problem with the long ball (1.12 HR/9). He was arguably more dominant in 2013 than his rookie season despite only winning 13 games. Better run support would have made him a 20-game winner.
- Ryan Braun – It will be interesting to see just how much the lack of PEDs affects his numbers. For now he still gets this high a ranking based on history. Make no mistake, though, Braun will be a risky pick in 2014.
- Felix Hernandez – It seems like King Felix has been around forever but he turns 28 years old in 2014 and still has plenty of good seasons left in the tank. If the Mariners ever get him some run support he’ll win 20 games. I doubt 2014 will be the year.
- Jacoby Ellsbury – Arguably the top free agent of the 2013 class. He will get paid somewhere, very likely in the American League. Don’t ever expect his 2011 power numbers again and you won’t be disappointed.
- Max Scherzer – Scherzer flirted with greatness for couple of years before finally putting it all together in 2013. Look for more of the same in 2014.
- Adam Wainwright – He came back from Tommy John surgery with all of his skills intact and improved control. Wainwright still has a year or two of ace status ahead.
- Joey Votto – Some are disappointed by his lower HR totals but how can you complain about an on-base machine like Votto? He’s one of the best hitters in the game and will remain so for years to come. Who cares if he only hits 25 HRs?
- David Wright – Between injuries and the terrible cast around him, 2013 ended up being a down year for Wright. He’s still one of the top third basemen in MLB, though, and 2014 should see him return to elite production provided he stays healthy.
- Bryce Harper – Still put up decent numbers despite a bum knee. Hopefully, this won’t be a continuing issue for him because his best is yet to come. Remember, he turns just 22 in 2014.
- Evan Longoria – He finally put in his first full season since 2010. His counting stats were disappointing, but that was a function of the anemic lineup around him more than anything he did or didn’t do. If the Rays would only get another solid bat in the lineup, Longoria would do wonders with the help.
- David Price – Price has the stuff and the makeup to be baseball’s best pitcher. Too bad he will likely achieve that status for another team. Trade rumors involving Price are an annual part of silly season.
- Edwin Encarnacion – E-5 loses his third base eligibility in Fantasy next season, but who cares? He’s become a perennial 35 HR, 100-plus RBI, 90-plus Run producer.
- Carlos Gomez – Gomez could flirt with 30/30 next season, but his lack of patience at the plate might prevent him from actually doing it. He’s right smack in the middle of his productive peak, so it could happen.
- Stephen Strasburg – Strasburg gets more “human” with every season, and it’s a little disturbing to see that he needed yet another elbow surgery at seasons end. However, he can still strike out batters in bunches and has Cy Young potential. Perhaps 2014 will be the year he achieves all we’ve expected of him.
WACHA’S VALUE SOARS WITH POSTSEASON PERFORMANCE
Sadly, the Fantasy Baseball season came to a close several weeks ago (postseason daily games being the exception). Now that the final contenders for participation in our game’s annual World Series competition have been determined, projection calculations are underway for Fantasy Baseball 2014 and MLB organizations are beginning to rethink their rosters for next season. Best of all, Offseason Musings is back to bring you some perspective on the past season, a look ahead to next season and all kinds of tasty Fantasy goodness you just can’t get anywhere else. Let’s get started, shall we?
There are several players in the postseason tournaments whose baseball future, and Fantasy fortunes for next season, could be heavily influenced by their overall or timely hitting, pitching or defensive work in key situations during the postseason. Of course, such a small sample of a player’s season can never paint a complete picture of their overall capabilities, but it does give us a peek at their ability to work under intense scrutiny in games where the pressure to perform at the highest level is required of everyone for any team to be successful.
What these players do during the postseason can influence their organization’s management to reassess their role for next season, open the door to potentially positive contract offers or get them a one way ticket to free agency in the form of a release. So let’s take a look at a three players whose fortunes could be influenced by “what have you done for me lately in the postseason.”
Evan Gattis (C, OF), Atlanta Braves – Gattis’ rookie campaign at age 27 was one of the better stories of the 2013 season. An injury and late start to the season for Braves primary backstop, Brian McCann, led to an opportunity for Gattis, who responded with a dozen home runs and a .281 batting average over the first two months of the season. It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Gattis, though, as a mid-season power outage along with a steep drop in batting average led to a slash in playing time. He was also sidelined with an oblique strain, which led to a 26-day trip to the DL. He finished the season at .243/.291/.480 with 21 HRs, 65 RBI and 44 runs scored, which is good enough to place him among the Top 12 Fantasy catchers.
Gattis isn’t a patient hitter, as his 5.5 percent walk rate makes clear, and there were times during the season when his strikeout rate approached 25 percent, though it settled in at 21.2 percent for the season. He’s aggressive at the plate (55.6 percent Swing rate) and tends to chase bad pitches (42.1 percent O-swing), but he makes good contact (77.9 percent Contact rate) and has solid power skills (.237 Isolated Power). If the Braves allow Brian McCann to leave via free agency, Gattis could be their primary starting catcher.
Given his postseason performance in the Braves losing effort against the Dodgers, there is a good chance the team decides to let McCann walk. After all, Gattis held down the cleanup spot in the lineup, batting .357 (5 for 14) with three runs scored and a RBI. It’s also worth noting that during the final month of the regular season, Gattis contributed six home runs, 18 RBI and a .255 average, helping to prop up a faltering offense and keep the team’s postseason dreams alive. Just how the Braves handle McCann during the offseason will determine Gattis’ Fantasy value in 2014. If they re-sign McCann, all bets are off for Gattis. But if they allow McCann to leave, Gattis could be a cheap source of power at the catcher position next season in all Fantasy formats.
Michael Wacha (SP), St. Louis Cardinals – The Cardinals starting rotation suffered numerous injuries this season, but the team had a seemingly endless stream of young arms to tap, among them Michael Wacha, a 22-year-old with less than 100 innings pitched in the minors. He was used in relief at first, but when it became apparent that a steady starter was needed, Wacha was moved into the rotation, where he made nine starts en route to a record of 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and a 9.05 K/9 strikeout rate. Originally projected to be a mid-rotation starter, Wacha has emerged as the second ace of the staff behind Adam Wainwright.
During the postseason, Wacha has been nothing short of brilliant. In three starts he’s gone 21 innings and given up just one earned run for an ERA of 0.43 with a 0.57 WHIP, 22 strikeouts and just four walks. He was named the National League Championship Series MVP by his teammates for dominating the Dodgers and beating Clayton Kershaw twice, including the series clinching Game 6.
Entering 2014, Wacha could potentially be a Top 25 Fantasy pitcher due to his excellent strikeout rates and potentially low ratio stats. While he certainly appears to be a very good young pitcher, some caution is warranted in overvaluing him. He will have very limited experience at the Major league level, and he will certainly be subject to the ups and downs that are expected of any young pitcher. There is no doubt that he will be worth an investment on draft day, but valuing him like an ace would be a mistake. Don’t overpay for Wacha next spring, but if you can get him at a nominal auction price or draft him in the middle rounds (Round 12-18), you just may have a real bargain on your hands. The potential for Fantasy gold is definitely there.
Koji Uehara (RP), Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox signed Uehara to a one-year deal last winter to provide them some stability in the seventh and/or eighth innings, a stepping stone to their new closer, Joel Hanrahan. All that changed when Hanrahan, and then his replacement, Andrew Bailey, were both lost to injuries for the balance of the season. At first, the Sox went with Junichi Tazawa in the closer’s role, but when it became apparent that he was better suited to setup work, the team decided that Uehara deserved a chance. Despite putting up impressive seasons with the Orioles and then the Texas Rangers, Uehara was never considered for ninth inning duties by either team. Indeed, the Red Sox probably never envisioned putting Uehara in that role either. Fortunately, circumstances left them little choice but to take their chances with the 38-year-old Japanese hurler with the high-80s fastball and a dazzling array of offspeed offerings that left hitters baffled, dazed and confused.
Uehara took over the job for good on June 28th, and on June 30th he allowed a run to score, essentially notching his first blown save, but also gaining his first win as the team’s closer. Amazingly, he would not allow another run to score until September 17th, a span of 31 appearances, a total of 33.2 innings pitched during which he would strike out 45 while walking just two; batter hit a paltry .074 against him during his incredible run. All told, he would finish the season with 21 saves, a record of 4-1 with a 1.09 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP. He struck out a total of 102 batters in 74.1 innings for a strikeout rate of 12.6 K/9 IP. He would allow just 11 walks (two intentional) all season and batters hit a pathetic .130 off him.
As if that weren’t enough, Uehara has turned it up a notch in the postseason. He’s appeared in eight postseason games so far, notching a record of 1-1 with five saves, a 1.00 ERA with a 0.56 WHIP and 13 strikeouts with zero walks. He’s allowed one run on five hits; the run coming on a golf-shot, walk-off homer by Jose Lobaton in the Division Playoff series with Tampa. He’s been called upon by Red Sox manager John Farrell to get as many as five outs in high-leverage situations and except for that one mistake (a lucky hit really) to Lobaton, he’s answered every call with near perfection. His teammates voted him the American League Championship series MVP, and deservedly so.
Overall, Uehara has gone from bullpen spare part (signed on the cheap) to key closer in very short order, and done so while pitching almost perfectly all through the regular season and well into the postseason with only the World Series left to play. He’s already gained status as a Top 10 closer entering the 2014 season, and continued stellar play in the World Series will only serve to set that status in stone. He is the only 38-year-old closer not named Mariano Rivera to enjoy such lofty status, and at this point even failure in the World Series isn’t likely to shake that value lower.
Xander Bogaerts – The Red Sox have a special player on their hands; there is no doubt about that. He’s supplanted Wil Middlebrooks (again) as the starting third baseman and will enter 2014 as the odds-on favorite to be the starting shortstop. His postseason play has been eye-opening and he will likely be a coveted SS in Fantasy drafts next year, almost guaranteed to see his Fantasy value soar to lofty heights.
Justin Verlander – He was very human (un-Verlander-like) this season, with a record of 13-12 and whispers that the workload (1760 IP since 2006 including this season) was getting to him. His postseason numbers were more like those we’re accustomed to seeing from him, so Fantasy players will likely forgive his unusually poor season and value him almost as highly as ever in 2014. Still, he is likely to drop out of first round consideration and fall somewhere in the late second or early third round overall.
Shelby Miller – Like Michael Wacha, Miller is having a strong postseason run. The difference is that Miller is coming off an exceptional rookie season for which he will likely be considered for Rookie of the Year honors. Continued success in the postseason can only help his already lofty status and value heading into 2014.
Trevor Rosenthal – Rosenthal has taken over as the Cardinals closer in the postseason, already saving two games and pitching five scoreless innings in which he’s allowed just two hits and a walk while striking out seven. He’s very likely to be the Cardinals closer next season unless the organization decides to stretch him out and have him start.
Mike Napoli – King Beardo is tearing the cover off the ball when he isn’t striking out. Five of his eight hits have been for extra bases, and he has five runs scored along with three RBI. He’s also hit two key home runs that helped the team win two postseason games. He is playing for his next contract, since he isn’t signed for next season…yet. If he continues to hit well in the postseason, he could be among the Top 15 or 20 at first base next season.
Casey Janssen May Miss Opening Day
Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen is still slated to open the season as the stopper, but there has been talk of a minor delay-slash-setback that could threaten that status. We are starting to hear phrases like “assuming he is ready” or “if he’s healthy,” so the situation is worth watching.
Toronto General Manager Alex Anthopoulos appeared on a Toronto radio show today and said this about Janssen, who is recovering from November shoulder surgery: “We’re optimistic he’ll start the season,” Anthopoulos said. “(He) could be delayed a week. Assuming health, Casey is the closer to start the year. You can never have too many arms in the pen. If he has to be delayed a week or so, we’ll have to adjust.”
Janssen replaced Sergio Santos, whom the Jays acquired from the White Sox before the 2012 season to close games. Santos developed an injury early in the year and it leveled almost his entire season. He stands at the ready to back up Janssen to open the season.
Santos, in either a closer or set-up role, could bring value to your Fantasy team. In 2011, he notched 30 saves for the Sox while owning a 13 K/9 profile. He’s prone to some wildness and he may have some rust on his arm after pitching in only six games for the Jays last year.
In his first spring outing on Sunday, Santos registered 95 mph on the radar gun, so arm strength does not seem to be an issue so far this spring.
Janssen seized the role last season with a good profile: 9.5 K/9 with a great a 1.55 BB/9 rate. His 0.86 WHIP and 2.54 ERA accompanied 22 saves. If he starts the season healthy it’s his job to lose, but if he misses even a week and Santos proves dominating, Toronto could have a closer controversy.
At age 31, his healing may not progress as quickly as he needs, though Santos full recovery at age 29 is not in the bag either. Monitor this situation closely throughout the spring. You might get a bargain in either Janssen or Santos in your draft.
Parnell to Open as Mets’ Closer
The New York Mets have shut down closer Frank Francisco due to elbow inflammation and hard-throwing set-up man Bobby Parnell will open the
season as the team’s closer, according to Manager Terry Collins.
Collins named Parnell the closer during an interview on WFAN radio in New York.
The 33-year-old Francisco struggled much of last season and experienced elbow tenderness. He had a bone spur removed from his elbow in a December surgery. Shortly after arriving in spring training, he revealed inflammation in the elbow. There is no immediate word on when Francisco might begin throwing again.
His K/9 rate dropped to 8.0 from 9.7 in 2011, but he also improved his control and dropped in velocity. Most observers say those changes were made in order to focus on pitching rather than throwing. His spike to a 61.5 ground ball percentage should help him hold onto the role.
Parnell’s Fantasy stock should soar as he has exceptional skills and might hold the job even if the oft-injured Francisco fully recovers. The Mets signing of Brandon Lyon last week allows them to have an able-bodied set-up man behind Parnell.
Bourn Again Indians
The Michael Bourn signing with the Cleveland Indians certainly shook up the Fantasy world, if not the Mets’ fantasy of carrying a classic lead-off hitter to energize their lineup.
Looking at the fantasy implications of Bourn’s four-year deal, we’ll start with the Mets. Manager Terry Collins told reporters on Tuesday that he could envision Mike Baxter and Collin Cowgill occupying the leadoff spot. He said the Mets played well for a stretch last season when Baxter lead off games. Ruben Tejada would hit 2nd under that scenario.
Baxter managed .263 with 3 HR, 17 RBI and five steals in 179 AB before sustaining a collarbone injury and a catch to save Johan Santana’s no-hitter. Cowgill’s line looked similar: .269, 1 HR/9 RBI/3 SB in 104 AB in Oakland’s crowded outfield. Together, the duo might manage a few steals, but little else atop the Mets’ lineup.
The free-spending Indians also added several other players this off-season, including outfielder Nick Swisher, first baseman Mark Reynolds, and starting pitcher Brett Myers. Outfielder Drew Stubbs an pitchers Trevor Bauer, Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw were also acquired by Cleveland.
Bourn, at least for 2013, should make Swisher and the rest of the lineup a bit more valuable, providing a duck for the pond out of the leadoff hole. As RotoExperts examined last week in our Deep Dive column, Bourn’s stolen base statistics have rolled back in recent years, while his power ticked up a bit last year.
He hit .274 with a .348 on-base percentage and a .391 slugging percentage with Atlanta last year. He swiped 42 stolen bases, a year removed from tying a career-high 61 SB in 2010. He added nine HR and 57 RBIs.
Between Bourn, Stubbs and second baseman Jason Kipnis, the Tribe should prove to be a team on the run. Between them, they stole 103 bases in 2012.
Michael Brantley, another centerfielder by trade, is included in the mix as well, meaning we may see Swisher slide to first base and Reynolds to DH, at least part of the time. Stubbs may be the odd man out in that case. Keep an eye out on the Cleveland spring box scores and news from new manager Terry Francona leading up to your draft.