The New Look Padres Outfield
The Padres completed a trifecta of offseason trades to completely remake their outfield, acquiring Justin Upton from the Atlanta Braves for a package of prospects including pitcher Max Fried, centerfielder Mallex Smith, left fielder Dustin Peterson and infielder Jace Peterson. This trade comes on the heels of a three-way trade with the Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals to acquire outfielder Wil Myers and the deal with the Dodgers that netted them veteran outfielder Matt Kemp. The Padres have been very active during this offseason, essentially tearing down their roster and remaking the team into a potential contender in 2015 under newly minted GM A.J. Preller. Of course, as Fantasy owners all we really care about is what the future Fantasy value of the new Padres outfield might look like, so that’s what we’ll focus on here.
There were some very encouraging signs from Kemp during 2014, as we saw the return of at least some of the power we came to love during his early career. It was also good to finally see a mostly healthy season from Kemp, who played 150 games this past season, the most he’s played in a season since 2011. The first half of the year initially looked like a continuation of the past few seasons, as Kemp only managed a .269/.330/.430 triple slash with eight home runs in 336 plate appearances. However, as summer heated up so did Kemp, and over the second half he bashed 17 round trippers and bolstered his numbers to .309/.365/.606 to finish the season at .287/.346/.507, which very closely mirrors his career averages.
Of course, Petco Park carries the reputation of being a terrible park for hitters, but Kemp has hit fairly well as a visitor in San Diego over the course of his career with a .322/.372./.495 line and seven home runs in 234 PA. However, it is notable that he has zero home runs there over the last two seasons. Still, using the Home Run Tracker tool and overlaying all 25 of Kemp’s True HR landing spots within the dimensions of Petco Park, he would still have ended up with at least 23 dingers last season. So Kemp’s power should continue to play well in San Diego. Now that his once ailing shoulders have healed completely, it appears we can be confident in his power going forward. Unfortunately, his days as a prolific base stealer are over, which shouldn’t be a surprise given his age (30) and the many injuries he’s had to his hamstrings and ankles. He did manage to steal eight bases in 2014, though, so we might see 10-12 from him in 2015 if his good health continues and his ankles are strengthened further during this offseason. Overall, his value probably remains about the same next season, especially if the Padres’ makeover successfully builds the lineup around Kemp.
Depending on how Wil Myers continues to develop as a power hitter, he could end up being the real gem among this new trio of Padres outfielders. All through his minor league career, it was Myers’ raw power that made him the top prospect he once was. However, it’s now been a couple of years since we’ve seen him truly display elite level power. His rookie season was quite good. He put up a .293/.354/.478 triple slash and hit 13 HRs in just 373 PA in 2013. Injuries galore completely derailed his development in 2014, and his six HRs in 361 PA along with his .222/.294/.320 line was a disappointment across the board.
The good news is that he is still just 24 years old, so there is plenty of opportunity and time for him to rebound from his lost 2014 and regain his status among the elite. Myers has been compared favorably to Matt Kemp in terms of raw power and hitting talent, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he assumes Kemp’s former mantle as a premier power hitter despite the move to Petco. As we saw with the above Home Run Tracker tool, right-handed power plays pretty well in Petco Park. It’s too soon to say whether Myers will be a 30 HR hitter and he doesn’t have Kemp’s speed, but there is no reason to think he won’t be among the top outfielders in the not too distant future. The only question is whether it will happen in 2015. I really liked Myers as a breakout candidate in 2014 and he disappointed me. However, if he hits the road running and hits well in spring training, I won’t hesitate to project that breakout season again. Myers is already a Top 30 outfielder but the potential is there to be an overall Top 30 player.
As recently as 2012, Justin Upton was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Now he returns to the NL West division as a member of the San Diego Padres. The knock on Upton when he was with Arizona was that he underachieved and easily should have batted .300 with more than 30 HRs every season. Yet, he batted .300 just once (2009) and exceeded 30 HRs just once (31 in 2011) during his five seasons there. The Braves traded for Upton in 2013, hoping that a change of scenery and being united with his brother B.J would motivate him to realize his vast potential. While he put together two very solid productive seasons in Atlanta, he still fell well short of expectations. Over those two seasons he amassed a .267/.348/.478 triple slash with 56 HRs, 172 RBI and 171 runs scored in 1284 PA. However, he is set to become a free agent at the end of the 2015 season and the Braves decided that he wasn’t going to be in their long term plans, so they traded him to the Padres for a haul of four prospects.
It’s apparent that the Padres did a solid job of targeting players whose bats will play well at Petco because Upton has enjoyed a career line of .291/.359/.541 there with 10 HRs in 172 PA. Once again, using the Home Run Tracker tool and overlaying Upton’s 56 HRs over the last two seasons on the dimensions of Petco Park, we find that at least 54 of those dingers would have cleared the fences there. So again, there is no reason to think that Upton will see a drop off in production with the move to San Diego. When you consider that he is in the midst of his prime hitting years as a 27-year-old, it’s apparent that we can expect another very productive season from Upton, who is already among the Top 30 hitters in Fantasy Baseball. Upton’s Fantasy value remains solid with this move.
The bottom line here is that the Padres have acquired two hitters with a solid resume of being among the better hitters in the game and a third with the potential to join them as soon as this coming season. Fantasy players have typically shunned Padres’ outfielders due to Petco Park’s reputation for suppressing power. Yet the data clearly shows that the right-handed power that all three of these outfielders possess will be well supported in San Diego, making them all players to be targeted in drafts in the spring. Fantasy owners should try to perpetrate the Petco power suppression myth, though, in an effort to convince their opponents otherwise. That will set them up to reap the benefits that the Padres clearly expect to realize.
Fantasy Baseball: Winter Meetings Fallout
Boston Red Sox
Rick Porcello: He’s been around forever, hasn’t he? Well, he’ll be just 26 years old come Opening Day, meaning he theoretically has his best days ahead of him. Porcello had his finest Fantasy season in 2014 (career-high bests in ERA, WHIP, and wins) and that was in a similarly favorable hitter’s park, something that should alleviate the fear that is typically associated with calling Fenway home. His groundball style (no pitcher has more wins and a higher groundball rate over the last four seasons) travels well (2.40 ERA and 1.11 WHIP when starting in the Top 10 hitter’s parks last year) and he figures to get more help from his bullpen, as the Red Sox’ relievers owned the seventh-best strand rate (LOB%) in 2014, a vast improvement from the Tigers, who ranked as the seventh-worst set of relievers. He also gets relief from the third-worst fielding team and should enjoy pitching in front of 2014’s fourth-most effective glove-handlers. However, there are some red flags that point towards regression in his ERA. For starters, his expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) was 15.4 percent higher in 2014 than 2013, but his ERA managed to drop by 20.6 percent. He also caught some luck, as his fly ball percentage (FB%) increased for a second straight season (up 22.4 percent from last season!) but didn’t come back to haunt Fantasy owners, as his homerun-to-fly ball rate (HR/FB) was at a career-low. As a contact pitcher, there is no greater concern than an elevating fly ball rate, especially when pitching in a hitter’s park.
Justin Masterson: After a bumpy 2014 that saw him struggle with the Indians (5.51 ERA) and get worse after joining the Cardinals (7.04), it is easy to forget that Masterson averaged better than 205 innings and owned a 3.86 ERA over the previous three seasons. That’s not great, but it’s better than what we saw last season and would make him a reasonable roster filler if he can rediscover that form. If you were going to build the perfect Fantasy pitcher you’d probably want a starter that keeps the ball on the ground in front of a strong defense, strikes out a fair number of hitters and has the support of a strong lineup, right? That would at least be part of the equation, no? Well, no pitcher, not one, has a greater groundball percentage (GB%) and strikeout percentage (K%) than Masterson since 2010, his first season with better than 150 innings pitched. Despite his struggles in 2014, his GB% increased for a third consecutive season but his Fantasy numbers were undone by the second highest HR/FB rate among starters (minimum 120 innings pitched). Numerically speaking, there was nothing to show for a groundball pitcher that had a better than career average K% and the lowest FB% of his career. Listen, I’m not suggesting you build a staff around Masterson, but don’t forget about him, as his 2013 stat line (14 wins, 3.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 195 strikeouts) is a near clone of Porcello’s 2014 (15 wins, 3.43 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 129 strikeouts).
Jon Lester: He’s good, maybe even really good. But is he great? Consider this: entering June 2014, he owned a 3.74 career ERA in 1,449.1 innings pitched (for reference, Matt Garza owns a career 3.81 ERA in 1,345.2 innings pitched). Why is that worth mentioning? First, it is easy to remember what we saw last, and that was Lester with a sub 2.00 summer ERA. Also, all of those career numbers came while calling Fenway Park home, a ballpark owns a Park Factor score nearly identical to Wrigley Field. I’m not suggesting that his great 2014 season was simply a product of the large dimensions in Oakland, but it certainly didn’t hurt his status as a Fantasy ace. His improvement goes well beyond the impact of the park, and his consecutive seasons with improvements in K%, BB%, and HR/FB is no fluke; neither is his repertoire, which features three pitches (fastball, cutter, and curveball) that earned a 6.0 pitch value or better, something Clayton Kershaw hadn’t done until last season. The increasing K% is a very promising trend (for those who haven’t read my material before, I believe in building a Fantasy staff around Ks), but the downward trending GB/FB is a concern with the move to Chicago. As long as you enter this season with reasonable expectations (think 2008-2011 Lester), the newest Cubbie will provide value. My concern here is that there will always be an owner chasing the 2014 numbers, meaning I won’t end up with him.
Chicago White Sox
Jeff Samardzija: In obvious news, moving from the seventh-most friendly pitcher’s park to the second-most friendly hitter’s park is not an ideal move for a pitcher like Samardzija, who is coming off a season with his highest contact rate (Contact %) since becoming a full-time starter. While the contact rate was a bit high for my liking, give the former tight end credit for limiting the damage of those balls that were put in play (he continued his downward trending FB/GB rate and his line drive percentage (LD%) was below his career average). My major concern here has less to do with the ballpark that he now calls home, and more to do with the division and his likely control regression. Within the AL Central there were three teams that finished 2014 among the Top 8 offenses in all of baseball when it comes to on base percentage (OBP) against right-handed pitching and the lowest K%. That type of batting eye scares me off Samardzija a bit, as three of his four most-faced opponents last season ranked in the bottom third of the league in OBP, thus helping him have a career-low walk rate (BB%). I worry that if his walk rate reverts to the mean (he essentially cut his career average in half last season), the home run ball will once again become an issue (20-plus allowed in three straight seasons) as a result of unfavorable strike counts. Did you know that only two pitchers (minimum 500 innings pitched) have a higher BB% and have allowed more round-trippers than Samardzija over the last three seasons? That’s not a trend I see traveling well with half of his games being played at US Cellular and more than one-third of his games coming against very patient offenses.
David Robertson: I’m not worried about the 3.08 ERA from a season ago (tenth-highest ERA among the 12 closers with more than 35 saves), as his HR/FB rate of 15.6 percent was a career outlier and was the ninth-highest rate among pitchers who threw at least 60 innings last season. Not surprisingly, he struggled at home, where 23.8 percent of the hits he allowed resulted in round-trippers. That’s not to say the gopher ball isn’t an issue, especially against right-handed hitters (82.4 percent of homers hit off of Robertson over the last three seasons have come courtesy of righties), but it’s hard to imagine them being as much of a value killer as they were a year ago. His 2.13 xFIP reflects what could have been with a normalized home run rate, an ERA that would have put him among the Top 5 ninth inning Fantasy options in 2014. The aforementioned statistic about the AL Central’s propensity to get on base against RHP doesn’t scare me off of Robertson, as he simply doesn’t give up a ton of base runners (1.05 WHIP over the last two seasons). Heck, subtract Robertson’s struggles against the ChiSox and you’ve got a closer with a combined ratio (ERA plus WHIP) similar to Kenley Jansen’s. Lastly, don’t rule out the slight value bump that comes with two workhorse starting pitchers in Chris Sale and Samardzija, as they often pitch deep into games and could hand the ball directly to Robertson with consistency (a major plus when you consider that Chicago had the third-worst reliever ERA in 2014).
Melky Cabrera: I love switch-hitters and I’m not shy about it. Why not? Baseball is a game of matchups and a switch-hitter always has a statistically favorable matchup. The one thing I like more than switch-hitters are switch-hitters that can actually hit from both sides. We often see tremendous statistical splits from one side but not from the other, which speaks to the value a switch-hitter has as he continues to take at-bats from a clearly less comfortable position, but that is not the case with the Melk Man. In fact, I have no idea which side he prefers because he has hit .311 from both sides of the dish since 2012. Nobody is going to confuse this M. Cabrera for the other M. Cabrera in terms of power, but his .164 isolated power (ISO) over his last three seasons with at least 100 games played indicates that a 20 home run season is an obtainable upside (Curtis Granderson hit 20 bombs last season with a .161 ISO) in a park that ranks ahead of the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. The slight bump in Park Factor could also help turn an extra line drive or two into a round tripper, a trend worth buying into, as Cabrera owns a very stable LD% (at least 20 percent in four consecutive seasons). For most players, moving teams is not just about the environment, but also about the new teammates. While the names around him are a bit different, Cabrera walks into a situation that will feel very familiar, as he projects as the number two hitter in an offense that offers supreme power in the 3-4 spots (Jose Abreu and the newly acquired Adam LaRoche). Simple logic would tell you that he will see his fair share of pitches to hit early in the count due to most pitchers opting to attack him instead of the Rookie of the Year, a game plan that should put a sheepish grin on the face of Cabrera owners. His low swing-and-miss rate (SwStr%) makes contact a near certainty, and considering that he hit .347 in non-two strike counts last season (.243 with two strikes), swinging early in the count is a strength for the 30-year-old outfielder.
Yoenis Cespedes: First, it is important to acknowledge what we have in Cespedes as a player before attempting to project how his third address in two seasons will affect his Fantasy status. He joins Carlos Gomez as the only players to hit more fly balls than groundballs, steal at least 30 bases, and record an ISO greater than .200 over the last three seasons. Cespedes may not have the counting stats that Gomez had over that stretch; but he does hold the slight edge in Contact %, and hitting the ball with consistency is the best way to produce Fantasy numbers. His groundball numbers have consistently declined during his three-year MLB career, while his fly ball and Contact % have increased with regularity. Detroit’s Comerica Park is somewhat of a middle ground when discussing the Park Factor difference from Fenway and O.co, but it is considered a slightly favorable hitter’s park. The ballpark, however, figures to have less of an impact on Cespedes’ Fantasy value than his new set of teammates. Early projections have him hitting fifth in one of the most potent lineups in all of baseball, a perfect spot as far as Fantasy owners are concerned. How good is that five-spot? Well, he is surrounded by Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Martinez, who combined to bat .321 last season and knock in 288 runs with 23.4 percent of their hits going for extra bases. The only concern I have for the 29-year-old is a batting average that has been volatile over his first three seasons, but the advanced metrics suggest that his .260 average from a year ago is a reasonable projection. In fact, one could argue that the .260 projection may be a bit low, as he was able to get there despite struggling to hit the fastball, a pitch he crushed during his first two seasons. He was able to maintain the reasonable batting average (.253 was league average in 2014) as a result of career-best production against both the curveball and the slider. Consider his 2014 stat line (89-22-100-.260) as a floor, with the potential to rattle off a season similar to what Adrian Gonzalez did a year ago (83-27-116-.276).
Alfredo Simon: If you play Fantasy Football, you are aware of the cautionary tale that is Matt Flynn. To make a long story short, he parlayed one strong game into multiple contracts, “earning” big-time NFL money without actually being a very good player. I’m not saying Simon isn’t talented, but his first season as a starter has more red flags than sustainable metrics, and he is due for a very difficult season if the Tigers elect to use him in their starting rotation (I’m operating under that assumption because as a middle relief guy, he obviously holds no value in standard leagues). Consider these two stat lines:
Player A: 4.20 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 5.83 K/9, and one win every three starts
Player B: 4.48 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.97 K/9 and one win every 2.91 starts
Which would you rather? Pretty close, right? Player A is Alfredo Simon’s season stat line without the aid of two outlier months (April and June) that saw him produce at essentially Clayton Kershaw levels (8-1 with a 2.18 ERA). Player B is the season stat line of Drew Hutchison, the 93rd ranked SP on ESPN’s Player Rater and a Fantasy afterthought for the majority of 2014. Furthermore, Simon’s season numbers (a very respectable 3.44 ERA) were in large part due to his ability to shut down some of the worst offenses in the league. In 74.2 innings of work against teams that scored less than 620 runs and hit .250 or lower for the season, Simon registered a 1.69 ERA. Nobody is going to make him apologize for beating up on these teams, but if I’m buying into a breakout campaign, I want proof that the pitcher can have success against the best in the game, something Simon simply didn’t do last year. As a pitcher who doesn’t miss many bats, Simon’s success relied heavily on his unrepeatable .265 batting average on balls put in play (BABIP), the fifth-lowest mark of any pitcher that threw at least 190 innings. The move to a more pitcher-friendly park doesn’t make his 2014 numbers any more sustainable, as he relied on balls being hit at defenders, a pitching style (like Rick Porcello’s) that isn’t affected much by the environment. In short, Simon showed glimpses of greatness, but he was a bad pitcher more often than his season statistics would seem to suggest, and I’m not betting on a pitcher who needs luck in order to be a Fantasy asset. Don’t be like the Seahawks or the Raiders and give the Matt Flynn of MLB a chance to earn your trust: show restraint and make Simon prove that he has what it takes to consistently produce at a reasonable level.
Kansas City Royals
Kendrys Morales: He doesn’t have any batting titles on his mantle, nor has he been a staple on Fantasy champions lately, but don’t let this signing fly under your radar. Your instant impression of Morales is likely “a reasonable power option that offers little else and really struggled last season.” While that is mostly accurate, it comes with a stigma, one that figures to drop him much further in preseason ranks than he should. Let’s look at the facts and take the emotion out of it. Ignoring an odd 2014 in which he never had stability, didn’t have spring training, and was moved mid-season after finally finding a landing spot in Minnesota, Morales’ numbers from 2009-2013 were essentially that of Anthony Rizzo in 2014. Per 550 at-bats, the 31-year-old slugger averaged 72 runs, 27 home runs, 89 runs batted in, and a .286 batting average, a near carbon copy of the Cubs first baseman (78-32-89-.286). Sure, he doesn’t come with Rizzo’s high ceiling, but he also won’t come with the price tag; so in non-keeper leagues it is hard to argue that he doesn’t at least have the potential for a similar stat line. The reasonable career Contact % and K% (his career rate mirrors what Andrew McCutchen did last season, a player who is not seen as strikeout prone) make Morales more than an Adam Dunn prototype and raises his floor. Kansas City isn’t a paradise for hitters, but its’ Park Factor does rank as more favorable (or less unfavorable) than Seattle or Los Angeles (Anaheim), the two stops Morales made during that 2009-2013 run. Add in the protection of Eric Hosmer, the combination of speed/upside sprinkled throughout this order, and the consistency of at-bats that come with being the primary DH (with 1B eligibility in most Fantasy leagues) now that Billy Butler is in Oakland, and you’ve got yourself a sneaky source of power that will cost next to nothing on draft day.
Alex Rios: The move from Texas to Kansas City would seem to be an unfavorable one as far as Park Factor is concerned, but considering that health issues never let Rios fully exploit the positives of Arlington, he will likely be undervalued entering the 2015 season.
Mike Trout. Where did that come from? Well, that’s the only other player in professional baseball with a .280 batting average, 40 homers, and 60 steals since 2012. Just the two of them. I’m not saying that they are in the same Fantasy class, but that’s some pretty impressive company. Rios’ high career LD% gives me confidence that, if healthy, he should be able to produce for the Royals, and his uncharacteristically microscopic HR/FB (2.9 percent) rate is a longshot to be repeated, thus hinting at a power rebound. If the power does return (we aren’t talking about a 30 home run player, 20 would be huge), there is high-end RBI upside here as he is projected to bat sixth for the Royals (behind Morales, Hosmer, and Salvador Perez) and is batting .290 over the last three seasons with runners on base. Yes, I’m a bit concerned that this will be the first time in his 11-year career that he is playing in a pitcher-friendly park, but in a strong lineup he should still be viewed as a stable source of Fantasy production for your outfield.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Yasmani Grandal: A switch-hitting 26-year-old that crushes right-handed pitching (his slugging percentage was 263 points higher vs RHP than vs LHP last season) is going to have a nice role, one that could potentially make him a back end C1 option in a deep lineup. His .175 ISO from a season ago should translate well as he moves from power-preventing Petco, but he projects as more than just a swing-for-the-fences type. Over his career he has offered at just 24.5 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone (O-Swing%), ranking him favorably with the 2014 rates of contact specialists like Michael Brantley and Denard Span. Baseball is a difficult game but not a complicated one; swing at pitches that you can handle and drive them. Grandal isn’t a must-own, but the signs are there that he could be a nice sleeper option for those of us that wait on catchers, as he should produce better numbers simply due to a more advantageous setting.
Jimmy Rollins: He continues to age (for those keeping track at home, he turned 36 in November), but you really wouldn’t know it from his Fantasy value. Before diving into the specifics of this move, let’s call the shortstop position for what it is in Fantasy Baseball: a mess. Look atop your rankings, who do you feel good about? I like Hanley Ramirez, but there is no denying that there is significant risk involved up-and-down the Top 15, thus giving the stability of a player like Rollins more value than meets the eye. There is a minor decline in Park Factor, but not a steep enough drop off for me to assume that this is the season that Rollins finally fails to produce nice value for his ADP. I’m more worried about his four year decline in Contact%, but it is possible that the decline in talent he will be facing could well negate slightly deteriorating skills. As a member of the Phillies, Rollins played nearly 40 games against two pitching staffs that finished 2014 among the Top 5 in team ERA, but as a member of the Dodgers those 40 games will come against two staffs that finished last season in the Bottom 5 in team ERA. He is a good bet to once against hit at least 10 homers and swipe 15 bags, something only two other shortstops did in 2014, and that has value as the leadoff hitter in a loaded lineup.
Howie Kendrick: Take the “over.” That’s my feeling on the 2015 season, when comparing it statistically to Kendrick’s 2014. The move isn’t a far one, but we are seeing a hitter that is improving and will be in the most favorable Fantasy spot of his career. Before I wax poetic about his upside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the few warning signs that do exist. His .341 career BABIP is awfully high and could well be seen as a statistic bound to regress. Although, it is possible that eight years into his career Kendrick just has a gift for finding holes. His up-and-down ISO makes pinning down a power projection a bit difficult, as he clubbed 13 homers in 2013 (122 games) but sandwiched that performance by two seasons with a combined 15 homers (304 games).
Alrighty, now we’ll move onto the good stuff. His high career BABIP, one that appears unsustainable on the surface but has been sustained for nearly a decade, has the potential to give Kendrick his first .300 (minimum 100 games played) season given his upward trending GB/FB ratio (career-high in 2014) and Contact%. While fly balls result in runs, grounders are the best way to support a batting average, and at the end of the day, hits drive Fantasy value. As previously stated, it is awfully hard to hit a baseball but the odds of success decline dramatically if you’re swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. In 2014, Kendrick displayed a vastly improved sense of the zone, as his BB/K ratio was not only the best of his career, it was the best by 46.7 percent! That level of improvement is no fluke, and if it proves to be a strength, this is going to be a great season for owners that spend a mid-to-late round pick on Kendrick. He is expected to bat behind Rollins but ahead of Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez, a position that should net him plenty of good early pitches to swing at. That is a positive given his batting eye, but he is at his best when being aggressive early in the count (he’s hit .344 when putting one of the first three pitches in play over the last three seasons). So, he’s not going to get himself out, he will be pitched to as a result of his spot in the lineup, he has 15/15 upside, and moves to a more hitter-friendly ballpark. Yea, Mr. Kendrick, you can man my second base spot this season.
Brandon McCarthy: It was a rollercoaster ride for McCarthy in 2014, as he was unlucky beyond belief while in Arizona, and then unsustainably great while in the Bronx. When all was said and done, his style of pitching in 2014 was enough to convince me to target him in the later rounds to fill out my rotation. Here’s a fun fact: only one pitcher owned a GB% of at least 52 percent, pitched 200 innings, and had a higher K% than McCarthy. His name? King Felix Hernandez. Not too shabby, and his “stuff” looks good on paper, as opponents swung more often last season than in years past, but they made contact at a lower rate. Dodgers Park is viewed as a neutral stadium (technically it slightly favors pitchers), an upgrade for McCarthy, who gave up a career-high 25 bombs last season, from both Arizona and New York. In fact, McCarthy’s only two seasons (2011-2012) spent in a pitcher-friendly park saw him deliver a strong 3.29 ERA supported by a 3.31 FIP. The park should help and the quality of divisional opponents certainly won’t hurt. The average seasonal run production of teams in the two divisions he pitched in last season was 668, a rate that was 4.0 percent higher than the non-Dodgers teams in the NL West. Durability has been an issue in the past, but given his expected ADP this spring, that risk shouldn’t hinder your willingness to take a chance on him.
Dee Gordon: Speed kills, so the environment shift shouldn’t hinder Gordon’s Fantasy game in a big way. Having Giancarlo Stanton in the middle of the order is an obvious plus when it comes to Gordon’s run-scoring upside, but is Stanton too good a hitter? That is, could the Marlins elect to keep Gordon on first base, knowing that Stanton is more than capable of driving him in from there? It’s just a thought. I like Christian Yelich batting behind him, as the 23-year-old showed some positive signs last season and hit his stride in the later months. A high BABIP (.346) and low BB% (4.8 percent) aren’t good signs, but the fact that his O-Swing% has been trending downward since putting on a major league uniform hints that his plate discipline/pitch recognition isn’t the issue. Ideally, we see an increase in walk rate to balance the inevitable drop in BABIP, thus allowing his OBP (and directly correlated stolen base attempts) to be sustained. Did Miami have the fourth-fewest stolen bases last season (only two players stole more than seven bags), because a lack of speed or management? I’m not overly concerned about this game plan, as I believe you adjust to the roster, but it is at least a thought, something that wouldn’t have been the case in Los Angeles, as they proved to have the confidence to give Gordon the forever green light. I’m in the camp that believes his OBP declines this season, thus making a reduction in both stolen bases and runs scored a very real possibility. A nice season is in store, but 45-50 steals and 70-75 runs scored is a more realistic projection for Gordon.
Mat Latos: Early in his career, he was successful in San Diego (3.37 ERA and 1.15 WHIP), but as with all Padres’ pitchers we were unsure of how much of that production was Latos and how much was ballpark aided. He laughed at his detractors by recording a 3.31 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in his 81 starts as a member of the Reds, proving to all of us that he is a true Fantasy asset. Latos showed no signs of being affected by the ballpark, as his numbers at home were actually better while in Cincinnati than they were on the road. Albeit in limited action, he recorded a career-best BB% last season, a level of control that is encouraging. BEWARE: His LD% has increased in four consecutive years, a serious concern since those hard hit balls will catch up to you sooner or later. Even with that knowledge, I’m a fan of his pitching repertoire (he threw six different pitches at least 3.7 percent of the time last season, the third consecutive season he has done so) and the move away from a hitter’s paradise.
Dan Haren: In the first nine years of his career he had one season with 30-plus starts and a 4.00 (or worse) ERA. Well, he’s produced that stat line in three consecutive seasons for three different teams and appears to be aging rather quickly. His HR/FB ratio has been the primary culprit of his steady decline, as the two worst seasons of his career and his three worst since 2007 have come during that stretch. Haren’s declining velocity likely has something to do with that and it is difficult to imagine this 34-year-old rediscovering it after setting career-lows for every pitch last season. He’s not a groundball specialist (essentially as many groundballs as fly balls over the last five seasons), but his contact percentage was in the same ball park as pitchers like Rick Porcello and Mike Leake in 2014. I would suggest that the high home run rate could see a decline given the slight edge to pitchers that Marlins Park gives, but he’s given up 83 homers in his last 92 starts, most of them while pitching in Los Angeles (spilt the difference between the two Los Angeles stadiums and the Park Factor is basically the same as Miami’s Park). I hate to say it because Haren was a strong Fantasy play for nearly a decade, but the 2015 upside might be a repeat of 2014 (13 wins, 4.02 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 7.02 K/9), which resulted in him being ranked as the 63rd most valuable SP (ESPN Player Rater).
Billy Butler: Remember when the fightin’ Billy Beanes were the best hitting team in the big leagues? Yeaaa … about that. The train fell of the tracks as the season wore on and moving Josh Donaldson/Brandon Moss probably isn’t going to help this franchise rediscover their high-scoring ways. Butler was added and will likely be counted on as this team’s three-hole hitter, a role that typically comes with Fantasy value, but I’m not taking my chances. The batting average should rebound a bit, as his LD% and Contact% are stable enough to bank on, but without any metric indicating that the power will approach the 2012 level (29 homers and a .510 slugging percentage), is he really anything more than James Loney? The ISO and HR/FB rate has fallen off a cliff over the last two seasons and moving to Oakland isn’t where hitters go to regain their power. At 28 years of age there is still the potential he can improve, but he’s not the type of player that I’m drafting and hoping for, rather he’s the type you let sit on waivers until he proves worthy of a roster spot. If there is a silver lining, he does play just about every day (19 missed games in his last six seasons) and has a firm grasp on the Athletics’ DH role.
St. Louis Cardinals
Mark Reynolds: He isn’t Fantasy relevant, but I wanted to include him here, as the signing has sparked some concern regarding the Fantasy value of Matt Adams. It is no secret that Adams has struggled in a big way against LHP during his career (.197/.227/.326), but Reynolds’ numbers against southpaws aren’t much better (.212/.319/.366) over that stretch, not to mention that he doesn’t hit righties any better. Is it possible that we see a pinch hit appearance here and there? Or maybe a day off if Adams is a bit banged up and/or struggling? Sure, but I’m not downgrading Adams in a big way as a result of this signing; Reynolds projects as more of a handcuff than a platoon.
San Diego Padres
Matt Kemp: The name value is still there, but will the production be? I’m not going to harp on the move to San Diego, everyone is aware that Petco Park limits power upside, and instead focus on what else Kemp can (or can’t) bring to the table. After swiping 40 bags in 2011 (602 at-bats), the 30-year-old Kemp has stolen just 26 bases over the last three seasons (1,207 at-bats), a concerning trend for a player who really has never been an overly successful player on the bases (65.2 stolen base success rate since 2010, not including the outlier season of 2011). The Padres were a station-to-station offense last season and while part of that was roster based, it is difficult to imagine them running their projected cleanup hitter with any sort of regularity. The fact that his LD% was at a career-high level last season provides me with some confidence that he can drive in runs, but expecting his power to translate (his HR/FB rate has been at least 20 percent in each of his last three seasons with 100-plus games played) to San Diego simply isn’t the percentage play. Consider this: subtract a handful of homers and you’ve got 2014 Torii Hunter. A nice Fantasy play, but worth the risk where he is sure to be drafted given his injury riddled past and a lack of lineup protection?
Wil Myers: I’ll admit it; I’m stubborn when it comes to Myers. I think the .185 ISO (similar to the power rate that Adam Jones and Ryan Braun produced in 2014) that we saw in the half of season he played in 2013 is just the beginning of what this 24-year-old is capable of and I had him pegged as a player that was going to be on every one of my teams in 2015, banking on people forgetting about the impressive 2013 power display and focusing on an unproductive and injury plagued 2014. Well, that theory is out the window … for now at least. The move to San Diego is obvious a step in the wrong direction for a player whose value depends on the long ball (although don’t sleep on his 11 career steals in 175 games or his.293 batting average from 2013), making a young player who has never really “done it” a tough sell coming off of a broken wrist. Is he an overhyped prospect that is destined to be the next Dom Brown? Or was the beginning of 2014 a sophomore slump that was magnified by an injury? It won’t cost you much to find out and it is possible that he becomes a sell-high candidate early in 2015 before he and the rest of his Padre teammates (namely Kemp and Carlos Quentin) have a chance to get injured. Believe it or not, a healthy San Diego lineup might actually be an improvement over Myers’ former situation in Tampa Bay, but the best ability is availability in baseball, and there is serious concern from that point of view for the Padres.
Toronto Blue Jays
Fantasy Baseball Value Tracker
Anybody can give you their ranks (and I have), so let’s evaluate value change as a result of changing addresses. Below are the players ranked in order of improvement from their 2014 performance (includes expected regression).
The Chicago Teams Breeze Through Winter Meetings
This has been a very active week at the MLB Winter Meetings with several teams making significant trades and free agent signings. We’ll begin with the players acquired by the White Sox and Cubs in the first days of the meetings and break down what the change of scenery might mean for their Fantasy value in 2015.
The South Side Shuffle
The White Sox kicked things off with the announcement that they signed free agent reliever David Robertson to a four-year $46M contract, somewhat close to what Jon Papelbon received from the Phillies in 2012 (four years, $50M, although, it appears that closer values have softened a bit since then, and justifiably so. Still, it’s a considerable investment in a reliever who will turn 30 shortly after Opening Day 2015. However, when you consider how poorly the White Sox bullpen performed in 2014, you can understand why they would look to solidify the closer’s spot. The team had 21 blown saves and the bullpen as a whole posted an AL-worst 32 losses in relief. Only two AL teams (Texas & Minnesota) allowed more runs in relief than the White Sox’ 4.68.
Robertson should have the ninth inning duties all to himself, as long as he can maintain some sort of stability in the ninth inning. Aside from Daniel Webb and perhaps Jake Petricka, there isn’t really a viable alternative for closing duties. If Robertson can continue the dominance he’s shown over the last four years, he should have no trouble running up annual save totals in the 40s. His combination of a 92 MPH fastball, a cutter with exceptional horizontal movement and a nasty knuckle curveball has consistently produced strikeout just below 12 K/9. That’s good enough to put him in the discussion among the top relievers in the game right now. Command can be a problem at times, as he sometimes struggles with walk rates above 3.00 BB/9, but his FIP (2.74) and xFIP (2.85) are consistent with his ERA (2.81) and he’s regularly posted groundball rates right around 44 percent. He is a very consistent pitch with good stuff, and he doesn’t rely on smoke and mirrors to get results. Overall, he has the makings of a Top 10 closer for 2015.
The White Sox also made a trade with the Oakland A’s to acquire SP Jeff Samardzija and P Michael Ynoa for IF Marcus Semien, C Josh Phegley, 1B Rangel Ravelo and P Chris Bassitt. Samardzija had one of his best seasons in 2014 despite making half of his starts for the lowly Chicago Cubs, where he couldn’t buy a win. His 2.83 ERA and corresponding 3.09 FIP were wasted with the Cubs, who offered him next to nothing in terms of run support. Things improved a bit with the move to Oakland; though, his ERA raised a tad (3.14) while his strikeout rate dipped slightly. The main worry with the move to Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field is that it plays as a very home run friendly park, which is bad news for a pitcher with an above average HR/FB rate throughout most of his career.
The good news is that Samardzija’s groundball rate has been steadily rising over the last three seasons, topping 50 percent in 2014. This is a reflection of his reliance on the cutter a bit more last season but a good trend to watch in the early going in 2015. If home runs become a problem early on, anyone who drafts Samardzija in the spring will want to bail on him quickly, as the home run ball dogged him earlier in his career and could always do so again, especially in such a home run-friendly environment. Overall, Samardzija’s Fantasy value takes a hit with this move, though it may be minimal if his groundball tendencies continue and the long ball problem doesn’t rear its’ ugly head.
Chicago Becomes Lester’s Sweet Home
Jon Lester chose to follow Theo Epstein to Chicago’s North side, where the Cubs have now announced their intention to reinvent their “loser image” beginning in 2015. If you believe that the offensive pieces are already in place, then the addition of Lester as a staff ace effectively begins their pursuit of a post season berth next season. They also reacquired Jason Hammel to rebuild their starting rotation which now shapes up as: Lester, Hammel, Jake Arrieta, Travis Wood and Kyle Kendricks.
The move to the National League’s Central division should be a positive one for Lester, who had an excellent season for the Red Sox and A’s in 2014. He should be able to maintain his strikeout rate somewhere around 8.22 K/9 he’s produced on average over his career in the more strikeout-friendly NL; though, I’d be surprised if he approached the 9.01 K/9 of 2014. Injuries haven’t been a problem since the early days of his career, when cancer threatened to end it before it even began in earnest. He’s started at least 31 games and thrown roughly 200 innings per season in each of the last seven years.
Along those lines, it is worth noting that Lester all but abandoned his changeup in favor of cutters and curveballs in 2014. In fact, Lester threw his cutter nearly 30 percent of the time last year, a pitch that torques the elbow in ways it wasn’t meant to be torqued. Cutters, splitters and sliders are generally thought to be contributors to pitcher injuries. Add to that the fact that Lester has thrown more than 1500 innings of baseball in eight years (without injury) and one has to think that there might be trouble ahead for the lefty. Aside from that, there is no reason to worry about Lester in Chicago or the NL. His Fantasy value gets a positive bump from this move, which could help prolong his effectiveness as a pitcher. I have my doubts about whether seven years or $155M dollars was a good idea, but that seems to be the market now. I’ll bet Max Scherzer is dreaming about the Benjamins these days.
The Quest For Arms At The Winter Meetings
The fun part of the Hot Stove Season is sifting through the various rumors that tend to float around during this time of year. Some of the rumors have some merit and are based on realistic possibilities but most of them seem to be completely frivolous nonsense. Thus, some folks have taken to calling this time of year the silly season. The truth is that very little tends to get done in the trade market prior to the Winter Meetings, which this year are scheduled to begin on December 7 in San Diego, California. It is there that we may begin to see a few trades made, but the more common happenstance is that the groundwork for trades is laid during the meetings with the real McCoy beginning in earnest in the days after the meetings end.
So, with the Winter Meetings right around the corner, I thought this might be a good time to sift through some of the more realistic sounding rumors to see if we can come up with a few things that might actually happen. A great place to begin is with the one team that has actually already made a major deal or two, the Boston Red Sox.
The Quest for Arms
The general consensus among most MLB analysts is that the Red Sox will be very active in their pursuit of pitching. I agree with this line of thinking, especially in light of their recent major signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, which solved two major problems that the team needed to address this winter. They needed to find a third baseman since it became clear that Wil Middlebrooks was not going to be the long-term answer at the hot corner after his dreadful 2014 season. The second need was for another impact bat in the lineup to pair up with David Ortiz. The signing of Hanley Ramirez gives the Sox another middle of the order hitter with power, who could also replace Big Papi as the designated hitter for the team whenever the latter finally hangs it up.
However, since Ramirez won’t be playing shortstop and Sandoval has third base locked up, it appears that left field will be the position where the new Red Sox signee will play. That creates a bit of a logjam in the Red Sox outfield, as they now have Yoenis Cespedes, Shane Victorino, Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Craig, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Daniel Nava along with Ramirez for, at most, five roster spots. If Ramirez plays left field and some combination of Castillo and Betts will cover centerfield, then that leaves two spots for Cepedes, Victorino, Craig, Bradley Jr. and Nava. Three of those five players and Middlebrooks are the trade chips the Red Sox will use to pursue starting pitching at the Winter Meetings.
The Sox are among the many teams negotiating with Jon Lester for what will likely be a five- or six-year contract at roughly $20-25M per year. They appear to be the front runners to get Lester but the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers are all in play and you can never count the New York Yankees out on any high profile free agent. In addition to Lester, the Red Sox are thought to be in pursuit of Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies. There is no question that the Red Sox have the chips to get a deal done for Hamels. The only problem may be that the Phillies may be asking for a bit too much in return. There are a number of prospects in the Red Sox farm system that the Phillies covet, but with all the seasoned players they have to use as chips, they may not be willing to trade away those younger players for Hamels. Besides Hamels, the Red Sox are also thought to be interested in Jeff Samardzija, Jordan Zimmermann and Rick Porcello. A deal for any of those pitchers could happen any time after the Winter Meetings get underway.
On The Market
Brandon Moss could be on the move to the Cleveland Indians according to John Hickey of the Oakland Tribune. The A’s have Cleveland second base prospect Joe Wendle in their sights along with another middle infielder (either Jose Ramirez or Erik Gonzalez). Moss had a down year for Oakland in 2014, but he had offseason hip surgery to correct the problem behind the troubles with his swing mechanics. Moss could play in the outfield for Cleveland so that Nick Swisher can become a full-time DH. Moss is a candidate to rebound at the plate if his hip problems are now behind him. A move to Cleveland would put him in a much more hitter-friendly division and home park.
Matt Kemp’s name keeps popping up in trade rumors, most recently with the San Diego Padres. The Dodgers would likely want catcher Yasmani Grandal to be part of any deal for Kemp, and the Dodgers would almost certainly have to eat some of his considerable salary. The Rangers, Mariners and Orioles have also been among the teams connected to talks for Kemp. Fantasy-wise, Baltimore and Texas would obviously be better destinations for the right-handed hitting outfielder, who started to hit more like the Kemp of old in the waning months of 2014. Robinson Cano’s limited HR production highlighted the problems associated with power hitting in Seattle’s cavernous stadium.
Off The Market
The Yankees’ signing of left-handed reliever Andrew Miller sets up their bullpen to be a source of all kinds of strikeout goodness next season. Miller signed a four-year, $36M deal with the Yankees, an exceptionally large contract for a relief pitcher in terms of both dollars and length. Miller, who will turn 30 in May 2015, had a breakout season pitching out of the bullpen for the Red Sox and Orioles, where he was traded before the deadline last season. He set an AL record for strikeouts per nine innings with 14.87 K/9 IP in 2014, which was second only to Aroldis Chapman (17.76 K/9 IP) in MLB. Couple Miller with Dellin Betances 13.50 K/9 IP and suddenly the Yankees have a solid one-two punchout team at the back end of their bullpen.
What remains to be seen is whether the Yankees will re-sign David Robinson, who saved 39 games in 2014, more than filling the shoes vacated by the retirement of Mariano Rivera. GM Brian Cashman has been mum on the subject of Robertson, who was last thought to be on the radar of the Houston Astros of all teams. Of course, either Miller or Betances, or some combination of the two could be used in the closer role, but even if neither ends up closing games, their value in Fantasy will be primarily for their strikeouts and typically low ratio stats.
Heyward/Miller Swap Offers Minor Changes In Fantasy Value
This second edition of Offseason Musings was slated to be about some of the many trade rumors that have cropped up since the season ended a couple of weeks ago. However, a major trade required a change of plans. The Cardinals and Braves swapped four players in a deal that makes perfect sense from a baseball standpoint but has only minor implications for Fantasy purposes. The Braves shipped OF Jason Heyward and RP Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for SP Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Tyrell Jenkins.
Miller is a power pitcher with a plus fastball that he struggles to command at times. His secondary offering is a curveball that worked quite well as a strikeout pitch in his breakout rookie campaign, but he lost the feel for it early in the 2014 season and had a tough season as a result. He lacks any sort of effective third pitch, though he’s tinkered with a changeup and a two-seamer with mixed results, never sticking with either pitch long enough to make a difference. So, essentially he’s a one pitch wonder at this point, but at 24 years old, he’s far from washed up and makes for a great reclamation project for pitching coach Roger McDowell.
McDowell has some great successes on his resume, in particular, he made a winner out of Aaron Harang in 2014 and he helped Ervin Santana recapture some of the magic that faded away in his final year with the Angels and lone season with the Royals. If McDowell can help Miller regain his feel for the curveball and perhaps help him develop an effective third pitch, then there is certainly some promise of regaining the dominance he showed in 2013. A quick look over Miller’s stats show significant drops in Swinging Strike Percentage (SwStr%) and Swings outside the hitting zone (O-Swing), which indicates fewer swings and misses on both strikes and non-strikes, particularly on his curveball. He also experienced a significant drop in strikeouts and an increase in walks due to his command issues with the fastball. In other words, McDowell will have his work cut out for him.
The change in home park is a slight negative for Miller, who is moving from the more spacious Busch Stadium to the more favorable home run environment of the Braves’ Turner Field. As a fly ball pitcher, he may see an uptick in HRs allowed, however, it may not make that much of a difference in his overall HR rates. There is also an issue with OF defense, as the Braves are losing one of the best defensive outfielders in Hayward and ostensibly replacing him with Evan Gattis, who represents a significant downgrade for a fly ball pitcher. In terms of Fantasy production, Miller in 2014 was a far cry from the dominant pitcher he was in 2013. As we look ahead to next season, there is certainly a chance he can regain some of that dominance, but that will rest upon his development of those secondary offerings. In drafts next spring, Miller will be more of a late round flier than anything else with the upside to be a SP2 or even an ace if McDowell has some success in turning him around.
The other pitcher the Braves acquired in the deal is yet another reclamation project for the organization, with the difference being that Tyrell Jenkins is working his way back after shoulder surgery and has yet to throw in the major leagues. Jenkins is a hard thrower who consistently works in the 93 mph range with easy and smooth mechanics. He projects as a future starting pitcher but is still quite raw and has a long way to go in his comeback from shoulder surgery. Command was an issue prior to the surgery and remains so today. He’ll probably start in the Braves’ High-A affiliate in 2015 but could work his way to Double-A before the season ends. Either way, he won’t make an impact in Fantasy next season but should be on the radar for dynasty owners looking ahead to 2016.
From a Fantasy perspective, Heyward has been a disappointment mainly because he set the bar high with his breakout 2012 season but has failed to live up to that standard ever since. However, if we look at 2012 as a power outlier and compare the rest of his career numbers, he’s still an elite level player with fairly consistent production across the board. Ultimately, that’s the sort of player the Cardinals are banking on getting, and Heyward couldn’t be moving to a better overall environment as a player. As a top of the order hitter, Heyward’s counting stats were victimized a bit by the conservative style of Manager Fredi Gonzalez in the running game and the lack of punch below him in the batting order. Indeed, the Braves were just a cut above the lowly San Diego Padres in run production this past season at 3.54 runs per game. Heyward got on base often with a solid .351 OBP, but the lack of support in the heart of the Braves’ batting order left him stranded more often than not, resulting in just 74 runs scored, despite him playing a career second-best 149 games and making 649 plate appearances.
The Cardinals had their own problems with run production in 2014, mainly due to their league low 105 HRs, yet they still produced 3.82 runs per game. The addition of Heyward atop their lineup along with Matt Carpenter, regardless of where each hits, will give the Cardinals an elite pair of table setters for their middle order hitters to drive in. Heyward should get a bump in runs scored next season, and manager Mike Matheny will almost certainly capitalize on his speed, a luxury the Cards have not had much of in recent years. We may never see 20-plus home runs from Heyward while playing half his games in Busch Stadium, but he’ll still hit double-digit HRs if he can stay healthy. Overall, this is a somewhat lateral move for Heyward’s Fantasy value, though, the potential for more run production and a more aggressive base running attack could bump his value somewhat on draft day. He’ll still be a Top -25 outfielder, likely picked somewhere in the low middle rounds.
Walden is a prototype power armed reliever, who regularly throws around 95 mph and can reach 97 mph when he rears back for a little extra. He also throws a nasty slider and a show-me changeup, but neither of those pitches achieve the kind of swing and miss rates of his fastball. However, like many pitchers of his ilk, Walden often has difficulty with command and control, which sometimes results in more walks than one typically likes to see. His overall Fantasy value actually gets a bit of an uptick with the move to the Cardinals because their bullpen is likely to thin through free agency. Both Pat Neshek and Jason Motte are expected to move elsewhere during the offseason, which would put Walden in line for the closer role if current closer Trevor Rosenthal struggles (again) or gets injured for any period of time. Walden has some closing experience; he notched 32 saves for the Angels back in 2011. That is likely why the Cardinals brought him aboard, especially given Rosenthal’s struggles this past season. Rosenthal is certain to start the season as the Cardinals closer but Walden will be the most likely choice for second in line for saves unless other candidate pitchers are signed. That makes Walden a good late round flier, or at the very least, a pitcher to monitor right from the start of the season as the possible replacement for Rosenthal.
Mets Sign Michael Cuddyer
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Offseason Musings, RotoExperts’ MLB Hot Stove news and analysis column. Throughout the Hot Stove season, we’ll look at the latest free agent player signings, trades and trade rumors and how they will affect the Fantasy value of the players involved. It’s never too early to begin your preparation for the 2015 Fantasy Baseball season, and this is where you can start gathering the intelligence that you’ll need to make wise draft day decisions. The decision to write this first edition was prompted by the first major free agent signing of the offseason, so that’s where we’ll begin today.
The NY Mets Sign OF/1B Michael Cuddyer
The Mets announced the signing of Michael Cuddyer to a two-year $21M contract that will also cost the Mets the 15th pick in next year’s amateur draft. In general terms, this is seen as a good baseball move, as Cuddyer has a solid reputation as a good clubhouse and team guy. Cuddyer is also good friends with team captain David Wright and he’s been a good hitter for the larger portion of his career. From a Fantasy perspective, though, this may not be a great move for Cuddyer, who has clearly enjoyed a resurgence hitting in the friendly confines of Coors Field over the past few seasons. However, Citi Field did play better for right-handed power after the fences were moved in back in 2011, and work has begun to move the fences in yet again for the 2015 season, which may lessen the blow to Cuddyer’s Isolated Power with the move to NY.
Overall, Cuddyer put up a .307/.362/.525 line over the last three seasons as a member of the Colorado Rockies. His home/road splits tell a familiar narrative normally associated with Rockies players; it’s no surprise that his home numbers (.329/.393/.591 in 555 PA) are considerably better than his road numbers (.286/.332/.463 in 584 PA). Even so, Cuddyer is a very productive .280 hitter with above average power, who instantly becomes the best hitting outfielder on the Mets. However, aside from the drop in average we’re likely to see from Cuddyer, there are two other concerns about the move to NY.
First, and more of a baseball concern than a Fantasy issue, is that Cuddyer is a defensive liability in the outfield. His overall defensive metrics put him somewhere between Manny Ramirez and Ryan Howard in terms of runs allowed etc. That’s, ummm, not good. Fortunately, we don’t care about defense in Fantasy, except that it might affect the way the Mets use him. He could play some first base, especially against lefties, whom Lucas Duda seems unable to figure out at all. But the Mets learned that Duda does best without the threat of losing his job hanging over his head, so Cuddyer will probably play left field, where they need a steady presence, something Cuddyer might be able to give them.
I am deliberately saying “might” because of concern number two – health. Cuddyer has a long, long injury history dating back to his early career with the Minnesota Twins. Over the last three seasons he managed to play just 280 games, or about 58 percent of the schedule. He reached the 500 PA plateau exactly once in the last three seasons. This, of course, is a major concern to the Fantasy community, especially with Cuddyer playing primarily in the outfield, where the need to run and the presence of walls to run into and players to collide with is much more of a problem. If he can’t stay on the field, then he can’t be of much help to Fantasy owners.
So, Cuddyer still has the hitting capability to be a Top 30 outfielder in Fantasy but his health history makes him a high risk draft choice regardless of when he is picked. The shorter fences at Citi Field could help preserve some of his power numbers and he’s still an above average hitter, even as he enters his age 36 season. His overall ranking is likely to be somewhere just inside the Top 150, making him a Round 12 (approx.) draft pick in 12-team leagues heading into the 2015 season. It would be nice to see the Mets make him just the first salvo in an attempt to beef up the roster, but given their spotty recent history with signing and trades, that may be wishful thinking at this point. We’ll explore the rumor mill surrounding the Mets possible future moves and the rest of MLB in the next edition of Offseason Musings.
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.