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.
Frieri Likely to Open as Angels Closer
Angels closer Ryan Madson, who wasn’t a sure thing to open the season after April 2011 Tommy John surgery, reported what he called a setback, according to the LA Times’ Mike DiGiovanna.
Madson said he was “very doubtful” that he’d be ready to open the season. He was expected to be ready between Opening Day and mid-April,
Madson experienced pain in his surgically-repaired shoulder during a bullpen session on Feb. 1, he said. While he chalked up the discomfort to the normal recovery from surgery, he reported being “very disappointed.”
Prior to missing 2012 entirely, Madson nailed down 32 saves in 34 chances for the Philadelphia Phillies, sporting a 2.37 ERA and a 4-2 record. His setback almost assures that Ernesto Frieri, who recorded 23 saves for the Angels, will open the season at the back of the bullpen. Frieri was lethal at times in 2012, posting a 13.3 K/9 rate, a 0.98 WHIP and holding hitters to a paltry .151 AVG. Frieri might be somebody to target in your draft, for even if he doesn’t keep the closer job, he will add Ks to your pitching staff totals all season.
Lowrie Trade Causes Fantasy Shuffle
The Oakland A’s and Houston Astros completed an intra-division trade which sent SS Jed Lowrie and RP Fernando Rodriguez to the A’s in exchange for first baseman Chris Carter, righthander Brad Peacock and minor league catcher Max Stassi.
The trade will cause quite a position shuffle – for both teams and for Fantasy owners.
A’s management praised Lowrie’s power for a middle infielder, although they have already signed Japanese free agent Hiroyuki Nakajima to play SS. Look for Lowrie to play throughout the infield during the season, but he has some experience at 2B, where he is expected to push Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks for playing time (or perhaps one of them could shift elsewhere). But because Oakland GM Billy Beane spoke about him as a good power source in the middle of the infield, look for Lowrie up the middle most days. Lowrie managed a .244 average, plus 16 HRs and 42 RBI in 97 games for the Astros. His power production is likely to suffer in Oakland’s cavernous stadium and he has never even played 100 games in a season due to injuries. But he remains a nice sleeper pick at the shallow MI position.
The loss of Carter leaves Brandon Moss as the favorite to patrol first base for the A’s. Moss has averaged about .250 throughout pro career, though he hit .291 in an up-and-down season for the A’s. He added 21 HR and 52 RBI in 296 plate appearances last year. Expect his average to drop unless he can develop better plate discipline – he strikes out about 30 percent of the time.
For the Astros, they continue to sell off veterans for prospects, but Carter enters an already crowded 1B situation. Carter, who hit 16 HRs and 39 RBI in 67 games last season, provides much-needed right-handed power for Houston. With Carlos Pena, Brett Wallace and Rule 5 selection 1B/DH Nate Freiman on the roster, Wallace is likely headed to the minors. As a Rule 5 player, Freiman must remain on the 25-man roster for be returned to his former team, so his roster spot seems safe.
The Astros – now an American League team – will enjoy the flexibility of the DH and Carter has played some left field, so if he hits, he should find room in the lineup. Peacock gives them a 25-year-old live arm. Throughout his minor league career, Peacock has been good for more than 9 K/9 IP but has shown some wildness. He should compete for a rotation spot in spring training.
At shortstop, Lowrie’s exit elevates Marwin Gonzalez and Tyler Greene up the depth chart in Houston. Gonzalez is a slick-fielding, light hitting option while Greene provides power without great defense. Neither provides much Fantasy appeal until they win a full time job and perform for awhile.
METS EYEING VALVERDE
According to an ESPN report, the New York Mets are interested in former Detroit Tigers closer Jose Valverde for the back of their bullpen. It is presumed that Valverde, if signed, would compete with (or outright displace) Frank Francisco to be the Mets closer. Last season, Francisco posted career worsts in several metrics, including a 5.53 ERA, 4.46 BB/9 and a 1.61 WHIP. He also underwent minor elbow surgery during the off season. Though he’s expected to be ready for spring training, the Mets are looking to add depth to the bullpen.
The animated Valverde, for his part, earned 35 saves for Detroit in 2012, but he saw his ERA climb to 3.78 from his 49-save 2011, when it was just 2.24. His strikeout percentage fell for the sixth straight season, to just 16.3 percent or 6.26 K/9. The move might give the Mets a slight upgrade at closer in the short-term, but Valverde would not be a lock to survive the season in the 9th inning role. Bobby Parnell owns the best skill set of the Mets bullpen crew and acted as the team’s closer in the late-season absence of Francisco last year.
Parnell featured a career-low 2.49 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. His strikeout rate fell from 9.71 to 8.00 K/9 but he cut his walk rate almost in half, from 4.10 BB/9 to 2.42 BB/9 (a 3:1 K:BB ratio). But most striking, his ground ball percentage soared to 61.5 percent from about 50 percent in 2011. Parnell has taken a bit off of his velocity – though his fastball still averages 96 mph – but it seems to be in favor of becoming a better overall pitcher. Even if the Mets offer a contract to Valverde, Parnell’s skills should continue to push manager Terry Collins to consider him at the end of games.
Our prediction? The Mets move away from Valverde – especially if they have to surrender a high draft pick for the signing – and “settle” on free agent Brandon Lyon, who had a good season, especially his stint with Toronto after escaping Minute Maid Park in Houston. Lyon improved his strikeout percentage, had slightly better control, and would provide a solid 7th/8th inning arm in the pitcher-friendly Citi Field.